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The federal Controlled Substances Act prohibits medical marijuana use. 21 U.S.C.S. § 844(a). The Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C.S. § 844(a), lists marijuana as a Schedule I substance, meaning federal law designates it as having no medical accepted use, a high risk of abuse, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. 21 U.S.C.S. § 812(b)(1)(A)-(C). This makes the use, possession, or manufacture of marijuana a federal criminal offense, except where used for federally-approved research projects. 21 U.S.C.S. § 844(a). There is no exception for marijuana use for medicinal purposes, or for marijuana use conducted in accordance with state law. 21 U.S.C.S. § 844(a).
Brandon Coats claims respondent Dish Network, LLC ("Dish") violated section 24-34-402.5 by discharging him due to his state-licensed use of medical marijuana at home during nonworking hours. He argues that the Medical Marijuana Amendment makes such use "lawful" for purposes of section 24-34-402.5, notwithstanding any federal laws prohibiting medical marijuana use. The trial court dismissed Coats's complaint for failure to state a claim after finding that medical marijuana use is not "lawful" under Colorado state law. Coats appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed.
Is the use of medical marijuana in compliance with Colorado's Medical Marijuana Amendment, Colo. Const. art. XVIII, § 14, but in violation of federal law, a "lawful activity" under section 24-34-402.5, C.R.S. (2014), Colorado's "lawful activities statute"?
The court held that Coats failed to state a cause of action for wrongful discharge under Colorado law, because medical marijuana use was unlawful under federal law and it did not fall within Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-34-402.5's protection for "lawful" activities. The court further held that employees who engage in medical marijuana use under Colorado's Medical Marijuana Amendment, Colo. Const. art. XVIII, § 14, are not protected from wrongful discharge under Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-34-402.5 (2014). The Supremacy Clause unambiguously provides that if there is any conflict between federal and state law, federal law shall prevail, including in the area of marijuana regulation.