Colorado: Supreme Court Says Employees Can Be Fired For Their Off-The-Job Marijuana Use

Colorado: Supreme Court Says Employees Can Be Fired For Their Off-The-Job Marijuana Use

Denver, CO: Members of the Colorado Supreme Court have unanimously affirmed that employers possess the authority to fire workers for their off-the-job use of marijuana. The Court held that the plant’s legal status under Colorado law does not make the act of consuming cannabis "lawful" under the state’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute.

In a decision released on Monday, the Justices opined, "The supreme court holds that under the plain language of section 24-34-402.5, C.R.S. (2014), Colorado’s ‘lawful activities statute,’ the term ‘lawful’ refers only to those activities that are lawful under both state and federal law. Therefore, employees who engage in an activity such as medical marijuana use that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute."

The ruling upholds the decision by Dish Network in 2010 to fire employee Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who used cannabis to treat muscle spasticity. Coats failed a random urine screen. Such tests identify the presence of the inert metabolite (byproduct) carboxy-THC, which may be present in urine for weeks or even months after one has ceased using cannabis. Consequently, the Justice Department acknowledges, "A positive test result, even when confirmed, only indicates that a particular substance is present in the test subject’s body tissue. It does not indicate abuse or addiction; recency, frequency, or amount of use; or impairment."

The Colorado decision mirrors those of courts in California, Oregon, and Washington – each of which similarly determined that state laws exempting marijuana consumers from criminal liability do not provide employees with civil protections in the workplace.

According to a study published last year in the Journal of Addictive Diseases, employees who test positive for carboxy-THC do not possess an elevated risk of workplace accident compared to employees who test negative.

For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel, at (202) 483-5500 or Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director, at: paul@norml.org.