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OGDEN — An Ogden firefighter and paramedic filed a lawsuit against the city and his department after he declined to surrender his medical marijuana prescription and was later placed on unpaid leave.
In a complaint filed Nov. 17 at Ogden's 2nd District Court, Levi Coleman alleges the Ogden Fire Department violated the state's Medical Cannabis Act, as well as the Utah Whistleblower Act, claiming the department retaliated against him for refusing to abide by a directive that he believed violated state law.
Coleman, a Salt Lake City resident and member of the Ogden Fire Department since March 2011, obtained a medical cannabis card on June 23 for his chronic back pain, which the complaint states has not prevented him from completing his duties at work.
On Aug. 4, the department passed a new policy regarding drug and alcohol screenings, which requires employees to tell their supervisor if they're taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications that could cause impairment. Coleman said in the lawsuit that he learned of other Ogden firefighters who also had medical marijuana cards, all of whom were placed on administrative leave and told to surrender the cards in order to return to work.
In late August and early September, Coleman notified Ogden Deputy Chief Michael Slater in two emails that he had a medical cannabis card. After the second email, Ogden City informed him he had to undergo a "fit for duty" evaluation. That evaluation — which is typically a part of an annual review and includes a physical fitness test — simply consisted of a doctor asking Coleman if he had a medical marijuana card. Coleman, who was not drug tested during the evaluation, told the doctor he did have a marijuana card, according to the court documents.
The doctor issued a medical report Sept. 3, the same day as the evaluation, which said Coleman had a "medical condition which would 'endanger applicant or public,'" according to a copy of the report included in court filings. Coleman has yet to return to work, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit says Coleman has not failed a drug test, nor has he shown signs of impairment at work. The doctor's evaluation, however, said Coleman had medical conditions that would "endanger applicant or public" and interfere with performance due to "potential impairment," the document states.
Brandon Crowther, an attorney representing the city of Ogden and the fire department, told KSL.com that Coleman was suspended and placed on leave after the doctor's evaluation, and said Coleman was not placed on leave strictly due to his unwillingness to surrender his medical marijuana card. Crowther said the case underscores how cities in Utah are grappling with the new medical cannabis law, as state code still lists marijuana as a controlled substance.
"Striking that balance is difficult," Crowther said Wednesday.
In the lawsuit, Coleman is seeking injunctive relief that would allow him to be reinstated at the department and require the department to create a medical cannabis policy in line with state law. He is also asking for backpay from the department, reimbursement for lost benefits and for the department to pay his legal costs.
An email to Coleman's attorney, Erik Strindberg, was not immediately returned as of Wednesday afternoon.
No court dates have been set in the case as of Wednesday.