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.
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?"
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.
Continue to see the complete marijuana piece from Last Week Tonight.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.