Medical and recreational marijuana may be legal in Colorado, but employers in the state can lawfully fire workers who test positive for the drug, even if it was used off duty, according to a court ruling Thursday. .
Colorado and Washington state law both provide for recreational marijuana use. Several other states have legalized medical use. The ruling concurs with court decisions in similar cases elsewhere and comes as businesses attempt to regulate pot use among employees in states where the drug is legal.
The case involves Brandon Coats, a telephone operator for Dish Network LLC. Paralyzed in a teenage car crash, he’s also been a medical marijuana patient in Colorado since 2009. Coats 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.
Thursday’s decision comes as lawmakers are debating how to regulate legalized marijuana for anyone 21 and older. Amendment 64, the measure that legalized use and possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults, says employers can still create drug policies governing marijuana. A state task force subsequently recommended that section be interpreted as allowing employers to fire employees for off-the-job marijuana use.
Joe Strom, CEO of USA Mobile Drug Testing stated “Employers must be careful to address the medical and recreational marijuana issue in their Drug Free Workplace Policies. Not having a comprehensive policy can cause problems for any employer conducting workplace drug testing.”