A Nevada district judge just ruled that the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) violated a state employment discrimination law when they fired an officer for smoking weed off the clock.
Two years ago, former police officer Stuart Bowman sued the LVMPD for terminating his employment after he tested positive for THC on a random drug test. Bowman's attorney, Adam Levine, argued that Nevada's adult-use law specifically prohibits all employers, including state police departments, from firing or disciplining any employee for legally using cannabis during their leisure time.
Attorneys for the LVMPD argued that a separate law lets both public and private employers establish their own workplace drug policies, allowing them to prohibit both legal and illegal drug use. As a precedent, the police attorneys cited a similar case from Colorado, where a judge agreed that an employer was justified to fire an employee for off-hours pot use.
Colorado's cannabis employment discrimination protections are not as strong as Nevada's, though. The Colorado law contains ambiguous wording that allows employers to fire workers for drug use that is not “lawful.” In this specific case, the judge agreed that the employer could legally fire someone for weed because marijuana is still federally illegal. But Nevada's law specifically states that employees are protected from discrimination as long as they are complying with state cannabis laws, regardless of federal prohibition.
Last Tuesday, Judge Kathleen Delaney decided the case in Bowman's favor. Levine told Marijuana Moment that the judge found the LVMPD's zero-tolerance cannabis policy to be “untenable,” as it violates the law protecting any employee “who engages in the lawful use in this state of any product outside the premise of the employer during the employee’s non-working hours.”
The LVMPD has been ordered to reinstate Bowman as an officer, grant him back pay, and cover all of his legal fees. Levine expects that the department will agree to give Bowman back pay, but he also believes that the department will file an appeal to avoid reinstating him as an officer. And since this future appeal may end up overturning Judge Delaney's current ruling, Levine has cautioned other Nevada cops not to “light up just yet.”
Although the majority of US states have now legalized medical or adult-use marijuana, most state and federal employers are still allowed to discriminate against employees who are using weed legally. Florida has gained quite the reputation for firing teachers that are enrolled in the state's legal medical marijuana program, and many private businesses around the country have fired employees for weed as well.
Times are definitely changing, though. Back in 2019, a former Amazon employee sued the mega-corporation after they fired him for using state-legal medical marijuana. Two years later, Amazon has stopped testing most of its employees for weed, and has even registered as a cannabis lobbyist. And over the past couple of years, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and other states and cities have passed laws to ban employment pot testing and protect employees who are using cannabis legally.