National / International News

Legalized pot use vs. employer drug testing

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-07 12:21

The lawsuit Brandon Coats filed against his former employer Dish Network stemmed from anger.

Coats was angry because Dish Network fired him in 2010 after his random drug test came back positive for traces of pot.

Coats had been upfront about his pot use. As a quadriplegic with powerful muscle spasms that make it hard to stay still while seated in his wheelchair, Coats used medical marijuana to calm his muscles and allow him to function.

“In the part of my body where I'm paralyzed, my body tries to send signals to my head, and it doesn't get through and gets sent back down, and what that causes is for my muscles to flex really hard,” Coats said.

Coats used to take other medications. But he says none worked as well as marijuana with so few side effects. He explained this his employers at Dish Network in 2010, when his random drug test came back positive. But the company decided to fire him, citing the positive drug test as the reason. They told Coats he could reapply for his job, if he could pass a drug test.

But Coats took another path. He sued Dish Network, claiming the marijuana he uses is just like any other medicine. Coats has a medical marijuana card issued by Colorado. His use of marijuana was and continues to be legal in the state.

But Coats lost in state court and at the appellate level, where a three-judge panel ruled last spring that even though Coats’ marijuana use was legal in the state, it was illegal under federal law, so Dish Network had a right to fire him.

The case did not end there. Coats appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, which has agreed to consider the case. Legal experts in the state expect the court to hear arguments over the summer and rule by early fall.

“Employers really need to keep an eye on this decision. It’s not just Mr. Coats,” said Vance Knapp, a labor law attorney who advises Fortune 500 companies at the Denver-based firm Sherman & Howard. “If the Colorado Supreme Court were to rule in Mr. Coats’ favor, that sort of decision would help other proponents of marijuana use in other states and other jurisdictions to support their argument that employees should have protections for using marijuana,” Knapp said.

Right now, there are few if any such protections. All 50 states allow employers to restrict marijuana use, and employees are often surprised that even though marijuana use may be legalized in their state, they can still face sanctions or dismissal by their employers if they test positive for the drug, according to Knapp. 

The Coats case in Colorado could prove a test for that precedent because the state has not only legalized marijuana, but also has a law on the books that explicitly protects workers’ lawful activities outside of work.

The question then comes down to whether marijuana use is lawful. The appellate court said it is not enough for the activity to be lawful under state law, it also has to be lawful under federal law.

If the Colorado Supreme Court reverses that ruling, it would create headaches for businesses around the country, which could find themselves with employees demanding protected status for their marijuana use, Knapp said.

Meanwhile, employers in Colorado and elsewhere are not waiting for a resolution to Brandon Coats’ case. They have been ramping up their drug testing ever since the state legalized recreational marijuana in January, according to a survey by the Mountain States Employers Council, a membership organization that helps companies with human resources issues.

Employers are worried about the costs of substance abuse, says Curtis Graves, a staff attorney with the council.

“There’s a great deal of statistics out that drug use and alcohol, cost employers an enormous amount of money, in the hundreds of millions of dollars a year. So, the marketing message is that by drug testing, they can save money,” Graves said, adding that employers are also concerned about potential liability costs if there is an accident and an employee tests positive for pot use.

A government-sponsored survey conducted in the 1990s did find that drug and alcohol use was costing the U.S. economy $276 billion a year. But proponents of marijuana say the drug is being unfairly targeted. Most employers don’t test for alcohol use, for example. And there are questions as to the science and accuracy of drug tests that find inactive marijuana compounds in people’s bodies (such compounds can remain in someone’s system weeks after they last consumed marijuana).

Michael Evans, the attorney who represents Coats, says that goes to the heart of their case. Dish Network did not know when Coats had taken the marijuana before deciding to fire him. All the company knew was that he had taken it at some point in the recent past. And that is not good enough, says Evans.

“It's about giving the [drug testing] laboratory the right instructions,” Evans said. “If they want to fire somebody that is high on marijuana, they can and they should. Just like they should fire somebody that came in drunk as a skunk after lunch, after having too many margaritas.”

But, Evans adds, employers should not fire someone who is taking marijuana in their own time and who is not intoxicated at work. 

Canadian author Farley Mowat dies

BBC - Wed, 2014-05-07 12:20
One of Canada's best-loved writers, Farley Mowat - author of Never Cry Wolf - has died, aged 92, at his home in Ontario.

Seeking Better Ways To Tell If Surgery Is Too Risky

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 12:04

Half of all surgery in the U.S. is performed on people over 65, yet many have health conditions that make it riskier. It turns out that the frailer people are, the less likely they'll survive.

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Rosetta comet-hunter narrows the gap

BBC - Wed, 2014-05-07 12:04
Europe's Rosetta comet-chasing spacecraft begins the process of zeroing in on its icy quarry by initiating the first of 10 thruster firings.

Man killed in level crossing crash

BBC - Wed, 2014-05-07 12:02
A 77-year-old man dies when his car is struck by a train at level crossing in North Yorkshire, British Transport Police say.

Fireman delivers baby at blaze scene

BBC - Wed, 2014-05-07 11:44
A fireman delivers a baby in the back of a car near the scene of a blaze in north London.

VIDEO: Stuart Hall 'raped girl in BBC room'

BBC - Wed, 2014-05-07 11:42
Stuart Hall groomed a girl and raped her in his BBC dressing room on several occasions, a court is told.

NBC will air Olympics in US to 2032

BBC - Wed, 2014-05-07 11:41
US broadcaster NBC extends its contract to exclusively air the Olympic games in the US through 2032.

South Africa in post-Mandela vote

BBC - Wed, 2014-05-07 11:36
South Africans have been voting in elections as the country marks 20 years since the end of apartheid, with the governing ANC widely tipped for another victory.

Helicopter safety timescales changed

BBC - Wed, 2014-05-07 11:29
The timescales for implementing safety measures for offshore helicopter flights are changed by the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

Four dead in US tennis star's home

BBC - Wed, 2014-05-07 11:26
Four bodies are located in the burned home of former tennis star James Blake in the US state of Florida.

NBC buys Olympics rights for Alibaba's treasure

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-07 11:22

NBC has bought the rights to broadcast the Olympics through 2032, on TV, over the internet and on mobile devices.

The head of Comcast, the company that owns NBC, said securing the broadcast rights for the Olympics is, in his words, an "honor" and a "privilege."

That's an honor and a privilege that will cost Comcast a reported $7.65 billion... which is about how much money Alibaba has in cash.

Kenya arrests over alcohol deaths

BBC - Wed, 2014-05-07 11:19
Two people have been arrested in Kenya after the deaths of 70 people from drinking illicit alcohol, amid growing anger over the incident.

I want Man Utd job, says Van Gaal

BBC - Wed, 2014-05-07 11:17
Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal tells BBC Sport he wants to become the new manager of Manchester United.

Monaco 1-1 Guingamp

BBC - Wed, 2014-05-07 10:59
Paris St-Germain clinch their second straight French title after Monaco are held by relegation-threatened Guingamp.

Judge warns of mephedrone 'epidemic'

BBC - Wed, 2014-05-07 10:52
A judge presiding over the trial of drugs gang warns mephedrone has almost reached epidemic proportions in south Wales.

Author Farley Mowat, Who Wrote 'Never Cry Wolf,' Dies At 92

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 10:50

The writer of books including People of the Deer and The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, was also an ardent campaigner for environmental causes well into his later years.

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VIDEO: Ships from Vietnam and China 'collide'

BBC - Wed, 2014-05-07 10:47
Vietnamese naval ships and Chinese vessels have collided in the South China Sea, according to Vietnamese officials.

Nigeria reward to find schoolgirls

BBC - Wed, 2014-05-07 10:33
Nigerian police offer a $300,000 reward for help to rescue girls abducted by Islamist militants, said to have killed 300 people in a recent attack.

A comic book pioneer adjusts to the digital age

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-07 10:31

Meltdown Comics and Collectibles opened in 1993 on Sunset Boulevard, in Los Angeles, less than two miles from the intersection of Sunset and Vine, right in the heart of Hollywood.

More than 20 years later, the store is one of the largest in the country and has diversified its inventory from simply comic books and graphic novels into comedy, podcasting and pop culture.

"Digital media is killing us, just like records stores," says co-owner Gaston Dominguez-Letelier. "People started downloading music, now they are downloading books and comics. ... It's not the same as it used to be."

Dominquez-Letelier says customers are also having comic books and products shipped directly to their homes, instead of coming in and picking up comic books every week. But he says that most of his customers are 25- to 45-year-olds. Older fans who remember coming in as children are now coming in with their own kids, and "hopefully it keeps going like that."

Dominguez-Letelier says Meltdown is trying new business strategies to grow. They've opened a live comedy venue in the back of the store, and are also accepting new forms of payment, including crypto-currencies like Bitcoin to grow foot traffic.

"The key word right now is 'experience'. Experiential marketing," says Justin Sewell, the director  of new media for Meltdown. "It's not enough anymore to have a line out the store. They want the buzz, they want the cool factor on Twitter, Facebook, reddit, YouTube, Twitch. Cool stuff online, so fans in Terre Haute, Indiana, can be part of the fun here in Hollywood."

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