With the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado you might wonder if an employee can be fired from their job for using marijuana outside of work hours. While it is legal to consume marijuana within the state’s boundaries, the issue of whether an employer can terminate an employee for off-duty marijuana use remains a topic of debate. This article aims to explore the complex relationship between marijuana consumption, employment policies, and the law in Colorado.
The Legality of Marijuana Use:
In 2012, Colorado became one of the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for individuals aged 21 and older. This decision significantly altered the legal landscape, making it lawful (at least on the state level) for adults to possess and consume marijuana within certain limits.
Despite the legality of marijuana in Colorado, it is crucial to recognize that marijuana remains illegal under federal law. The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance. Consequently, employers who are subject to federal regulations, such as those in the transportation, healthcare, or government sectors, may maintain stricter drug policies that prohibit any marijuana use.
Employers Can Prohibit Marijuana Use
Because the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, rendering it illegal at the federal level. Colorado employers may choose to rely on federal law rather than state law when it comes to prohibiting marijuana in the workplace and acting against employees who test positive for marijuana. The legality of recreational or medical marijuana use in Colorado does not shield employees from potential consequences in the workplace. Having a medical marijuana card and consuming marijuana solely for medical purposes does not provide immunity from employment policies and potential termination.
Furthermore, even if an employee never uses marijuana during work hours and restricts its use to personal time, a positive drug test can still be grounds for Colorado employers to take action, including passing over or terminating the employee. In such cases, employees do not have a claim for wrongful termination based on failing a drug test or refusing to take one.
The 2015 case Coats v. Dish Network, heard by the Colorado Supreme Court, affirmed the right of employers to terminate employees for marijuana use. In this particular case, the plaintiff used medical marijuana outside of working hours, but Dish Network still had the authority to terminate his employment due to the violation of federal law, despite the legalization of medical marijuana in Colorado.
In essence, an individual’s right to consume marijuana in accordance with state law is superseded by an employer’s right to maintain a drug-free workplace. It is important for employees to be aware that their marijuana use, even if legal in Colorado, can have repercussions in the employment sphere due to federal law and an employer’s policies regarding drug use.
Efforts to Change Colorado Law
Over recent years, several bills have been introduced at the Colorado legislature to limit an employer’s ability to file over marijuana use. However, as of the date of this article, no bill has yet to pass and the current law in Colorado is that employees can be fired for off hours marijuana use.
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