Colorado Finally Files Bill to Protect Weed-Smoking Employees
It’s been over seven years since the state legalized recreational marijuana, yet employers may still terminate their workers for off-the-clock consumption.
Published on January 15, 2020

A new statewide bill introduced in Colorado will prevent employers from terminating workers who consume cannabis while off-the-clock.

The bill, HB 20-1089, was filed by Rep. Jovan Melton (D-Denver). Unlike similar laws recently passed in Nevada and Oklahoma, the bill does not exempt employers who oversee workers in “safety sensitive” positions such as law enforcement, healthcare, construction, or transportation. In other words, as it’s currently written, the bill protects all adults from being terminated just for consuming weed on their own time, regardless of their job duties.

However, the bill will likely not apply to federal employers, such as government contractors for public services. Furthermore, the bill does not permit onsite or on-duty weed use, so if a cop gets blazed while on patrol, they can still be legally terminated.

“It was just a glaring gap that we have here in the statute, especially when we’re supposed to regulate marijuana like we are with alcohol,” Melton told the Denver Post. “If someone’s able to drink while they’re at home and on their free time, as long as they’re not coming into work intoxicated, then they’re not penalized with their employment.”

The “glaring gap” has been in Colorado for a long time. Nearly 20 years ago, the state legalized medical marijuana. Then, in 2012, voters approved Amendment 64, the law that launched America’s first legal recreational weed market. Yet despite the huge strides that the Centennial State has made over the last two decades, company policies still treat medical and recreational weed consumers like irresponsible criminals. 

Discrimination against cannabis consumers became public policy after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against medical marijuana patient Brandon Coates in 2015, a year after the state began recreational weed sales. In Coates v. Dish Network, Coates sued Dish Network after the company fired him for testing positive on a drug screen. Coates, who was and still is a registered cannabis patient in Colorado, insisted that he only consumed cannabis when he wasn’t at work, and his attorney showed that he was an exemplary employee. However, the court ruled in Dish Network’s favor since marijuana was still illegal at the federal level. 

In fact, private businesses and business organizations have been some of the most influential opponents against cannabis reforms in Colorado. HB 20-1089 will face stiff opposition, and may be rewritten before it goes to a final vote. 

“Our employers supported that Supreme Court decision over the years and continue to do so,” Loren Furman, an official with the state’s Chamber of Commerce, told the Denver Post. “It requires a larger dialogue among all the interest groups.” 

Businesses are worried that allowing cannabis consumption, even off-the-clock, could violate insurance policies those companies currently have. Employers in safety-sensitive industries such as healthcare and construction are concerned about marijuana’s residual effects that could persist for hours after last toking a joint.

If Colorado’s bill passes as it’s currently written, the Centennial State may pave the way for more states to follow its lead. Additionally, the bill’s language indicates that any substance that becomes legal for adult-use would receive its legal protections, so if Colorado legalized, say, psychedelic mushrooms sometime in the future, employees could trip balls on psilocybin while off-the-clock without fear of termination, without needing to pass a new bill. 

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Randy Robinson
Based in Denver, Randy studied cannabinoid science while getting a degree in molecular biology at the University of Colorado. When not writing about cannabis, science, politics, or LGBT issues, they can be found exploring nature somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Catch Randy on Twitter and Instagram @randieseljay
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