Film and TV

Colorado Connections in John Oliver's Shredding of F-ed Up Marijuana Laws

John Oliver talking about the drawbacks of having Colorado marijuana delivered to other states via carrier pigeon.
John Oliver talking about the drawbacks of having Colorado marijuana delivered to other states via carrier pigeon. HBO via YouTube
HBO's Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, which has become the go-to spot for what is essentially investigative comedy, devoted the lion's share of its latest episode to a shredding of current federal marijuana laws. And among the stories Oliver used to illustrate his points were several from Colorado.

Central to Oliver's thesis was the tale of Brandon Coats, whom we first introduced you to back in 2012. That year, as we've reported, Coats, a paralyzed medical marijuana patient fired by DISH for failing a drug test, filed a complaint over the issue in Arapahoe District Court. When he lost there, attorney Michael Evans took the case to the Colorado Court of Appeals, where jurists also rejected Coats's argument. Evans, though, wasn't ready to give up. He subsequently submitted what he described to us as a final document in an effort to get the Colorado Supreme Court to take on the matter — and in January 2014, the jurists agreed to do so.

But that ruling, which finally came down in June 2015, wasn't the victory for which Coats and Evans had hoped.

The court held that under Colorado's lawful activities statute, "the term 'lawful' refers only to those activities that are lawful under both state and federal law. Therefore, employees who engage in an activity such as medical marijuana use that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute."

Hence, the firing of Coats was deemed legal even though no evidence was ever produced to suggest that he'd used marijuana during work hours or anywhere on the company's premises. Moreover, his job performance reports were first-rate. Click to get more details.

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Brandon Coats as seen on Last Week Tonight.
HBO via YouTube
In another section, this one focusing on the roadblocks federal law places before anyone wishing to research the efficacy of medical marijuana, Oliver cited "one scientist [who] was forced to wait six years just to begin studying its effects on PTSD."

That scientist is Sue Sisley, whom our Patricia Calhoun has been covering since 2014. Sisley was ultimately awarded a $2 million grant in Colorado to study post-traumatic stress disorder — but the state continues to resist calls to add PTSD to its list of conditions treatable by medical cannabis.

The situation is even worse in Kentucky, where, as Oliver notes, no system for legal medical marijuana distribution has been set up even though the state has authorized MMJ.

That leaves a Kentucky veteran with PTSD in a tough place, despite a Colorado-centric idea floated by Oliver to remedy the situation — one illustrated by the image at the top of this post.

"If you're thinking, 'Could he train a carrier pigeon to carry the pot from Colorado?,' yes, that's a good idea," Oliver says. "But as a practical matter, no — partly because it's illegal, and partly because you know the bird will eat it on the way, stop flying and spend the whole night giggling about how owls seem like they have glasses, but, like, don't have glasses. And that's crazy, right?"

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Jared Polis, left, with other members of the Cannabis Caucus.
HBO via YouTube
Still, the news shared by Oliver wasn't all bad. He ballyhooed the existence of the so-called Cannabis Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives in part because the photo above proves that progressive marijuana policies are being supported by a collection of the least-cool-looking people on the planet — among them Colorado's own Representative Jared Polis, seen at left.

We're guessing Polis would be just fine with this comic characterization, if only because it means he won't have to demonstrate how to use a beer bong, as he did with Stephen Colbert back in 2009.

Continue to see the complete marijuana piece from Last Week Tonight.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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