Nevada's highest court just ruled that state employers are allowed to fire or suspend employees for getting high, reversing the state's robust workplace discrimination protections for cannabis users.
Nevada was actually one of the first US states to provide workplace protections for employees who choose to use state-legal cannabis off the clock. The state's adult-use law, enacted in 2017, specifically prohibits employers from firing or disciplining employees who legally use cannabis during their leisure time. Last year, a state judge ruled that this law even protects cops who choose to blaze while off duty. Nevada has also banned employers from conducting pre-employment drug testing for most potential hires.
But the state Supreme Court just undid all that hard work with one stroke of the pen. Earlier this month, the court ruled that recreational cannabis use does not qualify as either “lawful activity” or “lawful off-duty conduct” because it remains prohibited under federal law. Under the precedent set by this decision, Nevada businesses are freely allowed to terminate or discipline any employee that gets high in their free time, even if they are stone-cold sober at work.
The ruling was issued in the case of Danny Ceballos, who was terminated for using marijuana to treat a minor workplace injury. Ceballos was fired from his job at the Las Vegas Station Hotel & Casino in 2020 after testing positive for THC on a routine drug test. The former employee sued his employer, NP Palace, LLC, arguing that his termination violated the protections granted under the state adult-use law.
Ceballos argued that he was eligible for these protections because he had not used cannabis for 24 hours before showing up for his shift. As law firm Ogletree Deakins explains, Nevada explicitly prohibits employers from firing someone for engaging in “the lawful use… of any product outside the premises of the employer during the employee’s nonworking hours, if that use does not adversely affect the employee’s ability to perform his or her job or the safety of other employees.”
The Nevada Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that the state's employment protections only apply to the use of products that are “lawful under both state and federal law, not just lawful under Nevada law.” And since cannabis is still prohibited by federal law, it does not technically qualify as “lawful” under this narrow reading. The court ultimately ruled against Ceballos in the case, deciding that the casino did indeed have the right to fire him for his own private off-duty cannabis use.
The precedent that the case establishes will now allow any state employer to reinstate prohibition-era zero-tolerance cannabis policies that were previously blocked by the adult-use law. The court did point out that legislators do have the power to pass a new law that would “require employers to accommodate employees using recreational marijuana outside the workplace but who thereafter test positive at work,” though.
And of course, if the US government were to finally get around to legalizing or even decriminalizing weed, workplace protections for cannabis users would become fully legal in Nevada and every other adult-use or medical marijuana state.