Colorado medical marijuana activists appeal to state Supreme Court to make medical marijuana use a right


Colorado Supreme Court courtroom.

A group of Colorado activists have filed a request with the Colorado Supreme Court to consider the rights of patients when they review — once-and-for-all — whether or not medical marijuana patients have a right to use cannabis and whether or not the federal controlled substances act supersedes state medical marijuana laws.
It’s a complicated matter that has arisen several times, though most recently it stems from the 2012 drug-test-failure firing of a paraplegic DISH Network employee who was licensed by the state of Colorado to use medical cannabis.

As our sister paper in Denver has written about extensively, Brandon Coats was fired in 2012 for failing a drug test that he told employers he would fail due to off-work medical cannabis use. Colorado’s medical marijuana amendment says that “nothing [in the bill]shall require any employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace,” and Courts and employers have routinely used that and federal marijuana laws and federal labor and employment laws to supersede state medical pot laws.

Brandon Coats.

But Coats didn’t think that was right, so he took DISH to court. He lost and then appealed with the state Appeals court. He failed there too, as the courts basically said anything the feds says is illegal is illegal. So he tried a third time to get his job back by filing with the Colorado Supreme Court – a measure that activist Kathleen Chippi says could spell danger for medical marijuana patients in the state if the Supreme Court makes the same ruling as the state appeals court.
So Chippi and the Colorado Patient and Caregiver Rights Litigation Project have filed an amicus to preempt that decision with an argument for making cannabis use a right that cannot be trumped by federal law. From the PCRLP release, an amicus is “A way to introduce concerns ensuring that the possibly broad legal affects of a court decision will not depend solely on the parties directly involved in the case. Amicus brings new perspective into an existing case. It’s acceptance lies solely on the discretion court. The PCRLP amicus has been accepted by the court.”

Kathleen Chippi.

Which is a good sign, Chippi says.
“Patient and caregiver defense attorneys across the nation and specifically here in Coats v Dish, continue to concede to federal pre-emption and concede patients/caregivers have no right to MMJ when there is no case law that clarifies that,” she wrote in a release accompanying the PCRLP fundraising page. “This ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court will stand as the law of the land in Colorado and will be cited as case law nationally in future court cases. The PCRLP could not allow the courts to rule against patients’ rights and or federal preemption without a legal fight.
The ruling could have pretty broad implications either way. Chippi points out that a ruling on the rights of patients to use medical marijuana could affect everything from jobs that require a state licensing, gun rights, and parental rights. Currently, she says, all of those things are at risk for people who choose to use otherwise state-legal cannabis.
Best-case scenario, then, would be that the court rules that patients have rights at the state level and that federal law does not supersede state laws. But Chippi says that isn’t the most realistic scenario.
“If the court rules patients have rights but federal law preempts, than anything related to federal aid, federal housing, banking, student loans, organ transplants or cultivation/possession/use will still be at risk,” she writes. “In our opinion, the court will most likely not rule against patient rights and against federal preemption–which would mean the patients still have all risks above at a state level, but not at a federal level.”
The state Supreme Court expects to rule on the matter by late June or early July of this year. To learn more or to donate to the PCRPL, visit their fundraising site.