Colorado Bill Would Protect Workers from Being Fired for Off-Duty Cannabis Use

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Colorado may have regulated marijuana like alcohol, but since marijuana was legalized, there’s been a double standard when it comes to cannabis and booze. State law prohibits employers from firing employees for “lawful off-duty activities,” like drinking alcohol. Employees who over-indulge during the Superbowl, for example, can go into work the next day and talk about their bender without losing their jobs. Not the case when it comes to marijuana.

House Bill 20-1098, introduced to the Colorado legislature by Rep. Jovan Melton (D-Aurora), would explicitly include marijuana use as a “lawful off-duty activity.”

“I can’t believe we’ve had this much oversight and lack of protection for someone who’s using medical marijuana, or recreational, which is something that is legal in Colorado,” Melton told Westword. “Especially since we’re supposed to regulate marijuana just like alcohol. But [alcohol users] are not in the same type of jeopardy as someone who’s using marijuana. I feel like it’s kind of almost discriminatory to say someone can drink alcohol but not smoke here.”

At many companies in Colorado, an employer can fire an employee for testing positive for marijuana, even if they’re not high at work. After recreational marijuana hit retail stores in 2014, the issue came up in 2015, when the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the Dish Network was within their rights to fire an employee who tested positive for pot. The employee, Brandon Coats, a paralyzed medical marijuana patient, was fired for marijuana use off the job.

“We’ve revised the language a little, and it’s now about employee protection for lawful activity,” said Ashley Weber, the director of Colorado NORML. “We’re not really looking for any special treatment just for cannabis users…We offer these protections for alcohol, so we’re not asking for any special treatment.”

The bill would likely not apply to federal employees who work in the state, at least as long as marijuana remains illegal federally.

“Our hope with this bill is that Colorado will set an example in rewriting employee handbooks about how they’re going to treat the firing of their employees, and what is grounds for being able to be fired,” Weber said. “We can’t go back and undo what has already been done, but we can move forward in how we’re creating this language.”

The House Business Affairs and Labor Committee will have their first hearing on the bill on February 5.