DENVER – Paul Curry says his seven years at MillerCoors came to an abrupt end with one simple conversation.
“They just told me to pack my bags. They brought in security, I emptied out my locker and they told me to go home,” he said.
While MillerCoors cannot comment on the decision to let Curry go, Curry says he was told he was being fired because he had just tested positive for marijuana. Not a surprise, says Curry.
“I’ve been on the [medical marijuana registry] for about a year,” he said.
“All he had was one single positive UA for THC which means that he had used marijuana in that last 30 days. That’s all it means,” Curry’s attorney Rob Corry said.
Corry has made a living advocating on behalf of medical marijuana users over the last few years.
“He’s a medical marijuana patient. He’s trying to follow his doctor’s orders, and he’s trying to do everything he can to manage his [pain],” Corry said.
Corry and Curry insist that the one-time MillerCoors maintenance mechanic was not “high” in any way at the time of the test. They also say his usage was never a factor in his job performance.
As of Tuesday afternoon, MillerCoors had yet to respond to numerous inquiries from 9NEWS, but because the issue falls into the realm of “personnel matters,” it was unlikely to say much about its decision to let Curry go regardless.
On Tuesday, Corry and Curry came to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment in an effort to secure Curry unemployment benefits. Curry has previously been denied the benefits because of the nature of his dismissal.
Curry and Corry met with a hearing officer for the department. Corry says a decision should come in a few weeks.
A decision made last year by the Colorado Industrial Claim Appeals Office (ICAO) indicates they will likely have a difficult time succeeding in obtaining the benefits. The ICAO is part of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment and last year issued an opinion that denied unemployment benefits to an unnamed person who was fired after testing positive for marijuana.
“When the Department of Labor issued that opinion, it decided to take a position on that issue,” Holland and Hart employment attorney Emily Hobbs-Wright said.
9NEWS spoke with Hobbs-Wright and fellow Holland and Hart attorney Alyssa Yatsko on Tuesday about the ramifications of the ICAO opinion. Both agreed the decision should not be taken lightly by employees who currently use medical marijuana.
“It’s definitely a risk if you choose to use medical marijuana. It could impact your job,” Hobbs-Wright said.
Amendment 20 (the amendment to the Colorado Constitution that allows the use of medical marijuana on the state level) does include language that offers at least some insight here. It reads, in part, “Nothing in this section shall require any employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any work place.”
That section, based upon the ICAO opinion, has now been interpreted by some to indicate that employees will be at risk for termination should they test positive for marijuana while in the workplace, even when it’s not even presumed that they’re under the influence of marijuana at the time of the test.
As of its last report in late March, the state indicated there were 123,890 people on the Colorado Medical Marijuana Registry.
9NEWS Legal Analyst Scott Robinson says there appears to be plenty of grey area here.
“The number of individuals alone who are using medical marijuana guarantees that this issue will be a hotbed of litigation for years to come,” he said. “The marijuana issue is unique. It’s the only substance in the entire country which is legal locally but illegal everywhere,” he added, pointing to federal law which still outlaws the use and distribution of marijuana.