After a five-month battle with the City of Ogden, Utah, Ogden Local 552 member Levi Coleman is back on the job after being unlawfully suspended for possessing a medical cannabis card for his chronic back pain. The victory was part of a settlement reached after Coleman filed a lawsuit against the city, saying his prescription was protected under the state’s Medical Cannabis Act.
“In this case, our member was following the law while the city was breaking the law,” says Professional Fire Fighters of Utah (PFFU) President Jack Tidrow. “This settlement was just and fair. And now Brother Coleman can continue to manage his chronic back pain without threats to his employment.”
Coleman, an Ogden fire fighter for more than a decade, was prescribed medical marijuana by his doctor to treat chronic low back pain in June 2021. This came after medical marijuana was legalized in 2018 under the state’s Medical Cannabis Act.
Two months later, the City of Ogden adopted a drug and alcohol policy that required city employees to report if they are taking any prescription medication that might cause impairment.
Coleman and three other fire fighters reported having cannabis cards to fire department management. Management placed the four on administrative leave, saying they had to relinquish their cards if they wanted to return to work.
Three of the fire fighters complied, but Coleman refused, saying that he was following the law and should not be penalized.
The department sent Coleman to the city medical director for a fit for duty determination. Rather than conducting a drug test, the doctor declared him unfit for duty because he had an active medical cannabis card.
Coleman was put on leave without pay, forcing him to use his personal sick leave and vacation time. The PFFU intervened, pushing city management to do the right thing and allow Coleman to return to duty and maintain his marijuana prescription.
The city refused. With the help of the PFFU, Coleman filed a lawsuit in 2nd District Court contending he was unlawfully suspended from duty for refusing to surrender his medical cannabis card.
The case was settled out of court in favor of Coleman. The City of Ogden agreed to allow the Local 552 member to return to work without relinquishing his prescription and credited back all of the sick leave Coleman used September 2021-January 31, 2022. Additionally, the city signed a written agreement making it possible for Ogden Local 552 President Alex Sanders to work with fire department management to develop policy on prescription medication.
Meanwhile, the state legislature is doing its part to ensure no other state employee is retaliated against for having a medical cannabis card.
Both chambers of the Utah legislature have passed SB 46 which requires that state and local governments treat medical marijuana prescriptions the same as they treat prescriptions for other controlled substances. Governor Spencer Cox is expected to sign it into law.