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Lawsuit Challenges Company's Firing Of Medical Marijuana Patient

DENVER (CBS4) - There are still a lot of questions about how Amendment 64 will unfold in Colorado, and one of those is how workplaces will handle drug testing and employees.

One Colorado man found out even a medical marijuana card didn't protect him, and now he's behind a lawsuit before the Colorado Court of Appeals that targets his former employer DISH Network. The outcome could have broader implications.

Brandon Coats was 16 when a car accident left him a quadriplegic with a number of long term side affects.

"His symptoms are involuntary muscle spasms. They're embarrassing and they're painful," said Coats' lawyer Mike Evans.

Coats claims medical marijuana is the only thing that helps him.

Coats worked at Englewood-based DISH as a call operator, and Evans said he never showed signs of intoxication on the job. But the company still fired him for having THC in his blood.

"He said 'Mike, is there anything I can do?' I had to be honest and said I don't know, because there were no cases that touched on this point,' " Evans said.

DISH made the following statement about the firing: "DISH is committed to its drug-free workplace policy and compliance with federal law, which does not permit the use of marijuana, even for medicinal purposes."

Employment lawyer Steve Bell said he thinks the law is on DISH's side in the case.

"The big takeaway is it remains illegal with the feds. Even if that weren't the case, the employer should be allowed to regulate its own workspace," Bell said.

The implication there is that a medical marijuana license or Amendment 64 wouldn't be a cover for someone who smokes off duty but is found with THC in their blood.

"We hope the court of appeals will apply state law as they should without the pressures of federal law, " Evans told CBS4.

A decision in the case is expected soon.

Bell also said that even if the federal government eventually allows pot use, it raises a number of questions, such as how high is too high for work.

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