Our system, for better or worse, is one in which the state governments retain a high degree of sovereignty. Simply put, the federal government isn’t supposed to have the power to act often, but when it does, it reigns supreme over the state governments. A recent case before the Colorado Supreme Court demonstrates this principle.
Brandon Coats was fired for testing positive for marijuana. While he was not high on the job, and even recreational marijuana is legal under Colorado law, a unanimous CO Supreme Court held that he was not shielded by the Colorado employment law that states that one may not be fired for legal activity. Why? Because under federal law, marijuana is still illegal. This is a point lost on many people. Although several jurisdictions have legalized marijuana for medicinal and/or recreational use — among them, the city of Washington, DC — it’s still a violation of federal law. The reason the legalization is seen as a victory is that the Department of Justice are too busy with more pressing matters to enforce its drug laws. However, as this case shows, there will always be consequences, even in a “pro-marijuana” state.
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Rob Bodine is a Virginia attorney focusing his practice on real estate and intellectual property law. He’s currently Virginia counsel with First Class Title, Inc., a Maryland title insurance and settlement company. Rob is also a licensed title insurance agent in Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.