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Quadriplegic Reacts With 'Disappointment' Following Landmark Pot Ruling

DENVER (CBS4) - A landmark ruling Thursday could impact any working Coloradan who uses marijuana legally.

The Colorado Court of Appeals says Englewood-based Dish Network had every right to fire employee Brandon Coats in 2010 because he violated company rules by using medical marijuana while he was not on the job.

Coats is a quadriplegic and says marijuana is the only thing that helps him with what he calls "huge muscle spasms."

Brandon Coats
Brandon Coats (credit: CBS)

Dish's lawyers argued that even though Coats had a legal Colorado medical marijuana license at the time of the firing, the company declared was against company policy to use marijuana. With their 2-1 divided panel decision the court referred to the fact that marijuana is still illegal under federal law to make their decision.

"There's obviously some disappointment," Coats told CBS4. "I was hoping for it to go the other way around."

Curtis Graves, an attorney for the Mountain States Employers Council, said the court's decision is pro-employer.

"I can't say I was surprised," Graves said. "It's what employers wanted, put it that way. No one wants to be told they can't do a drug test or you have to have evidence of impairment before you take the next step and terminate."

He also says it makes Colorado more attractive for companies.

"There has been a lot of concern about companies with an eye toward moving to Colorado and maybe not wanting to because they were afraid they'd have to hire an impared workforce," Graves said. "This takes that obstacle away."

The ruling, however, raises a big hurdle for people like Coats, who is still looking for a job.

"I'm going to be like this for the rest of my life, and I don't want to go through the rest of my life being unemployed," Coats said.

Coats' lawyers plan to appeal the case to the state Supreme Court. But before you can argue your case in front of the Supreme Court the justices have to decide you have a case worthy of challenge.

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