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People who test positive for smoking pot can legally be fired from their job, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in deciding that there is no employment protection for marijuana users.

In a split decision issued on Thursday, the court said marijuana use is still barred by the federal government, even though state-licensed marijuana use has been approved by voters and is considered lawful.

"For an activity to be lawful in Colorado, it must be permitted by, and not contrary to, both state and federal law," the appeals court said.

The case involves Brandon Coats, 33, a telephone operator for Englewood, Colo.-based Dish Network LLC. Paralyzed in a teenage car crash, he's also been a medical marijuana patient in Colorado since 2009.

He was fired in 2010 for failing a company drug test, though his employer didn't claim he was ever impaired on the job. Coats sued to get his job back, but a trial court dismissed his claim in 2011. The judge agreed with Dish Network that medical marijuana use isn't a "lawful activity" covered by the law.

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