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Medical Marijuana Use Is A Touchy Issue In The Workplace

Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic medical marijuana patient from Colorado, was fired by Dish Network in 2010 for taking his medicine while off duty, in the privacy of his own home.

Coats had been a model employee. But Dish Network’s zero-tolerance drug policy prohibits marijuana use, even for medical reasons. When Coats, a customer service representative, tested positive for cannabis during a routine drug test, he was immediately terminated.

Because marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, employers can fire a medical marijuana patient who fails a drug test, even in states where it's legal for medical use. Coats sued the satellite television company for wages and benefits, alleging he had been illegally fired.

His attorney, Michael Evans, told KNPR that the failed drug test did not prove that Coats was intoxicated at work. Evans didn’t argue that an “employer has a right to drug test” employees, but added that Coats never used marijuana on the job, never endangered the health of any person at Dish, and never was written up for poor job performance.

Last year, the Colorado Court of Appeal affirmed Dish’s right to fire Coats, but the state Supreme Court announced it will hear Coats’ case in September.

In Nevada, the state’s medical marijuana law, which took effect April 1, allows Nevadans to buy marijuana prescribed by a doctor for medical use from a state-licensed pot dispensary.

Nevada also has a law on how employers must accept a worker’s use of medical marijuana. It says employers don’t have to allow medical marijuana on-site. But they do have to attempt to make reasonable accommodations for holders of a state ID card to smoke marijuana if it does not pose a safety threat or keep them from fulfilling their job duties.

That may sound cut-and-dry, but the federal Controlled Substances Act still bans all marijuana use, even with a doctor’s prescription.


Anthony Hall, partner in the Reno office of Holland & Hart

Michael Evans, labor attorney in Denver

Deb Keary, vice president of human resources at the Society for Human Resource Management

Richard Segerblom, Nevada Assemblyman and attorney
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