Smoking marijuana in Colorado won’t land you in jail, but it might cost you your job. A Colorado appeals court held Thursday that employers can fire individuals who test positive for marijuana – the latest of several courts to uphold firings even when the marijuana is used to treat severe medical conditions. The ruling upholds the termination of Brandon Coats, who had been using medical marijuana to treat symptoms from a car crash that paralyzed him. Courts in Washington and Colorado have also found that individuals can be fired if they test positive for marijuana, the Associated Press reports. And a federal court last year upheld Wal-Mart’s firing of a Michigan man who was using medical marijuana to treat an inoperable brain tumor.
The 2-1 ruling hinged on the fact that marijuana remains federally illegal, although the dissenting judge questioned whether federal law was relevant to the state ruling. Lawyers for Coats say they will appeal to the state Supreme Court. The decision highlights one of the many collateral consequences surrounding marijuana use even in states where it is legal. Because marijuana remains in users’ systems for long periods of time, a positive test does not necessarily mean the user is under the influence at work. Several bills in Congress that seek to exempt those states with marijuana laws from the federal Controlled Substances Act could resolve this issue.