Washington and Colorado have both legalized recreational marijuana use, but it’s still unclear whether employees’ jobs are protected in those states if they smoke off duty — either for recreation or medical use. In Colorado, for instance, the marijuana law allows employers to impose any drug policies they see fit.
There are a lot of unanswered questions, and it’s time for U.S. lawmakers to clarify how companies should treat these cases. Regardless of a state’s law, using marijuana remains a violation of federal law. This conflict has important consequences in the workplace: Employees are left with no protection and employers with little guidance.
Moreover, in a 2013 ruling, the Colorado Appellate Court said that because marijuana is still illegal under federal law employees could be fired for using it off duty.The case has gone to the Colorado Supreme Court; if it rules in favor of the employee, it would provide protection to thousands of medical marijuana users in Colorado and potentially influence other states to follow. If the court decides in favor of the employer, the status of registered users in Colorado remains unchanged: They have very little protection from losing their job.
A few states have anticipated this conflict, but only two provide real protection for employees: Arizona and Delaware specifically prohibit employers from terminating registered medical marijuana users if they test positive for marijuana, provided it is not being used at the workplace.
Medical marijuana isn’t going away; its acceptance is only gaining momentum. However, its support is only meaningful if users don’t lose their jobs.
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