By Carole C. Schriefer, R.N., J.D., The Health Law Firm

Marijuana may be legal in Colorado, but you can still be fired for using it. Employers’ zero- tolerance drug policies trump Colorado’s medical marijuana laws, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled on Monday. In a 6-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that businesses can terminate an employee for the use of medical marijuana – even if it’s off-duty.

Coats v. Dish Network.

Brandon Coats became a quadriplegic after a car accident and has relied on medical marijuana to help with muscle spasms. Dish Network fired Coats after a failed drug test in 2010.  “As a national employer, Dish remains committed to a drug-free workplace and compliance with federal law,” company spokesman John Hall said in a statement.  To read about the Coats v. Dish Network case in its entirety, click here.

What is Lawful Activity?

This case was brought based on Colorado Revised Statute 24-34-402.5, Colorado’s “lawful activities statute.” The Supreme Court held the term “lawful” in the statute refers only to those activities that are lawful under both state and federal law. Therefore, employees who engage in an activity such as medical marijuana use that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law, are not protected by this statute.  Like Texas, Colorado law allows employers to set their own policies on drug use.  Unlike Texas, Colorado has a law that says employees can’t be fired for “lawful” off-duty activities.
To read C.R.S. § 24-34-402.5. – Unlawful prohibition of legal activities as a condition of employment, click here.

Legal Off-Duty Activity.

Coats claims that Dish Network violated C.R.S. § 24-34-402.5, by terminating him due to his state licensed use of medical marijuana at home during non-working hours. The Colorado justices ruled that because marijuana is illegal under federal law, Coat’s use of the drug couldn’t be considered legal off-duty activity.  State laws only govern the citizens within a particular state, but federal laws apply to all U.S. citizens. Therefore, federal laws trump state laws.

To read past blogs on this topic or any health law topic, visit our blog pages on our website :

Visit our Colorado Health Law blog.


Do you think medical marijuana is considered a “lawful” activity? Do you agree with Dish Network’s decision? Do you think Coats v. Dish Network was a fair case, why or why not? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys for Medical Marijuana Concerns.

The Health Law Firm attorneys can assist health care providers and facilities, such as doctors, pharmacists and pharmacies, wanting to participate in the medical marijuana industry. We can properly draft and complete the applications for registration, permitting and/or licensing, while complying with Florida law. We can also represent doctors, pharmacies and pharmacists facing proceedings brought by state regulators or agencies.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at


Linsley, Brennon. “Colorado court: Workers can be fired for using pot off-duty.” The News Herald. (June 15, 2015) From:

“24-34-402.5. Unlawful Prohibition of Legal Activities as a Condition of Employment.” Department of Regulatory Agencies. (June 15, 2015) From:

Coats v. Dish Network, LLC., CO 44. No. 13SC394. U.S. (2015)

About the Author: Carole C. Schriefer is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620. The Health Law Firm also has offices in Fort Collins, Colorado and Pensacola, Florida.

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