Medical marijuana: CO Supreme Court ruling leaves patients unprotected, plaintiffs say
Last year, marijuana activists asked the Colorado Supreme Court to hear the appeal of a precedent-setting case involving MMJ patient Jason Beinor, who was fired from his job for failing a drug test. Now, by a 3-2 vote, the Supremes have declined to take up the matter -- a decision the plaintiffs see as devastating for patients' rights.
In lieu of an interview about the court's decision -- technically, the petition for a writ of certiorari was denied -- Kathleen Chippi and Rico Colibri, who funded the appeal through Cannabis Alliance for Regulation and Education (CARE), issued a joint statement. "The Colorado Supreme Court continues to frustrate the will of the people by refusing to make a final decision on state medical marijuana rights, a decision that will ultimately have to be made," they write. "The denials are another tragic blow to medical marijuana patients."
They add that "patients now have no protections from losing their jobs, unemployment benefits, occupational licenses, fire arms, school grants, government aid, housing, insurance and/or child custody over their use of medical marijuana."
As we've reported, Beinor was employed by Service Group Inc. to sweep the 16th Street Mall. However, he was fired after failing a random drug test, even though he's a legal patient.
Afterward, Beinor filed for unemployment benefits, and a hearing officer eventually ruled in his favor because there was "no reliable evidence to suggest that...claimant was not eligible for a medical marijuana license" or that his use of marijuana negatively impacted his job performance. But his employer appealed the decision, and a panel ruled in the company's favor, citing Article XVIII of the Colorado constitution, which states that an employee who tests positive during working hours for "controlled substances" that are "not medically prescribed" doesn't qualify for benefits. The Colorado Court of Appeals concurred by a 2-1 margin, with the majority finding that patients don't have carte blanche to violate firms' policies and practices.
Beinor, who represented himself in the case, doubted that the ruling would have significant repercussions. But shortly thereafter, the decision was mentioned by town attorneys while successfully defending Longmont's medical-marijuana-retail-business ban. And Chippi, who's also challenged HB 1284 and SB 109, the state laws put in place to regulate the MMJ industry, believes the answer to her suit submitted under the auspices of Attorney General John Suthers -- namely, that there is no fundamental right to medical marijuana in Colorado, despite a constitutional amendment permitting its use by patients -- is built upon the Beinor ruling.
Developments like these explain why Chippi talked Beinor into appealing the decision, and why her Patient Caregivers Rights Litigation Project, in conjunction with CARE, paid attorney Andrew Reid to petition the Colorado Supreme Court to look at the Colorado Court of Appeals' conclusions.
But no: As Reid points out via e-mail, Chief Justice Michael L. Bender and Justice Monica M. Márquez wanted to hear Beinor and another case rejected by the Colorado Court of Appeals -- that one involving Leonard Charles Watkins, a patient denied the right to use medical marijuana while on probation. But three of their colleagues on the court turned thumbs down, squashing such a prospect.
In the view of Chippi and Colibri, the Watkins rejection could have an even more detrimental impact on MMJ patients than does the Beinor turn-down. Why?
Page down to continue reading about the Watkins case and see the court documents.