Commentary: Weed and work just don't mix

By Marie Matyjaszek

It’s Sunday morning and you are looking forward to a day off of work. You wake up and your back is just killing you – must be that disc problem doctors say they simply can’t fix. Good thing is, you have something that can help, and even better, you have a prescription for it:  medical marijuana.
 
Now that you’re done hiding those “green brownies” from the kids, you relax and start to feel the pain ease up. Monday rolls around, and the boss randomly selects you for the drug testing program. Not a problem, because you have a prescription for the weed in your system, a license to use an otherwise illegal drug, so you comply without a second thought. And then, in the words of Donald Trump, “You’re fired.”

A similar ending played out for Colorado resident Brandon Coats in 2010, who got the ax from Dish Network after failing its drug test for having marijuana in his system. Medical marijuana is legal in Colorado and has been for 15 years. Colorado also provides an added bonus: You can legally smoke marijuana recreationally, but your boss can be a buzz kill and prohibit its use by employees. Despite both sides agreeing that Coats’ use of the drug did not occur at work or impact his job, he was still fired. 

The Colorado Supreme Court recently ruled in Dish Network’s favor, noting that while the law protects employees from wrongful discharge if they are engaged in lawful activities, it only protects activities that are legal at all levels – state and federal. While the U.S. Supreme Court has made some big decisions lately, none of them legalized pot.

Thanks to this little technicality, Coats was not improperly terminated by Dish.

Medical marijuana is permitted in many states, Michigan included, and this case could have substantial impact across the country in making legal decisions about employees that use pot. I’m on the fence about whether or not Coats should have been fired – on one hand, everyone agreed that his use of marijuana did not cause a problem at work, and he had a valid prescription for it. On the other hand, ignorance of the law is not an excuse to violate it, even if it does seem like a tricky detail few in the workforce knew about. 

Lesson to be learned:  Don’t assume that your boss’ encouragement of participation in the company potluck means he approves of the brownies that you keep bringing.
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Marie Matyjaszek is a family law attorney. Email her at at matyjasz@hotmail.com.

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