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Medical Marijuana User? Apply For Work At Your Own Risk

DENVER (CBS4) - Marijuana is legal in Colorado, but that doesn't exempt workers here from drug testing for pot.

On Monday the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Dish Network had the right to fire an employee who tested positive for medical marijuana even though he had a prescription for it.

Colorado businesses and workers had been watching the case very closely. The ruling makes an employer's rights on marijuana black and white, but there is a massive grey area when it comes to determining if someone is under the influence of the drug.

Advocates worry upholding the firing of Brandon Coats will have a chilling effect.

"This is a tough decision for (medical marijuana users). They may have to choose between doing what their doctor tells them to treat their medical condition and having a job," said Brian Vicente, an attorney with Sensible Colorado.

Vicente says the ruling legalizes discrimination against cancer patients and many others who say they need medical marijuana for their treatment.

"It is a pretty big blow," Vicente said. "We've come a long way in terms of affirming the rights of medical marijuana patients in Colorado and this is a callous and discriminatory opinion."

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Groups advising Colorado businesses on employee issues seem less concerned. Curtis Graves, a spokesman for Mountain States Employers Council, says the ruling won't change much.

"If it's not a safety sensitive job, most companies aren't randomly testing people en mass. They just rely on their work performance," Graves said.

But Coats worked in an office and was fired after a random drug test. He took medical marijuana to offset the effects of a car crash that made him a quadriplegic.

Graves says this case is rare, saying new hires should be most concerned.

"This really impacts people from a pre-employment testing perspective because once you're on the job, unless you lead your employer to believe that you're high, you're probably not going to get tested."

The case won't be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Advocates say if marijuana is dropped off the Stage 1 narcotics list, this case would essentially be irrelevant.

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