Colorado Supreme Court to consider whether you can be fired for using pot

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Photo: Marijuana pipe and grinder (file)

Soon the Colorado Supreme Court could change this law after agreeing hear a case on the matter later this year.

Brandon Coats was a telephone operator at Dish Network before the company fired him in 2010 after he tested positive for using marijuana.

While recreational pot was illegal then, Coats had a prescription to use it because of injuries he suffered in a car accident that left him a quadriplegic. He says the marijuana helped control his spasms, a lingering effect of the accident. Dish Network did not allege he used marijuana at work.

Coats is suing based on the off-duty legal activities statute (Colorado Revised Statutes 24-34-402.5) which says that people can't be penalized for participating in legal activities while not at work.

Lower courts have upheld Dish Network’s right to fire Coats, saying that since marijuana was -- and still is -- illegal federally, the off-duty legal activities statute doesn't apply.

Denver labor attorney Danielle Urban thinks the Colorado Supreme Court will probably rule the same way.

But, Urban points out, one of the three judges on Colorado's Court of Appeals ruled that Coats was wrongfully terminated so there's a chance the Supreme Court justices will agree.

If the Supreme Court does rule in Coats' favor, reversing the lower court’s rulings, the implications could be broader than just employment cases.

Using marijuana is still prohibited for things like receiving housing or student aid, and in child custody cases.

Urban says that if the Supreme Court rules in Coats’ favor, it could mean that marijuana use wouldn’t affect those things either, as long as they're state matters and not federal aid, for example.

The Colorado Supreme Court is expected to hear Coats' case this summer.