It has been nearly 10 years since voters in Colorado legalized recreational cannabis, but for some employers in the state, prohibition remains the law of the land.
A proposed bill would change that, with lawmakers there reviving an effort to prohibit employers from firing employers solely for using pot.
Called the “Prohibit Employer Adverse Action Marijuana Use,” (or HB1152) the new legislation would seek to bar employers from “taking adverse action against an employee, including an applicant for employment, who engages in the use of… medical marijuana on the premises of the employer during working hours; or retail or medical marijuana off the premises of the employer during non-working hours.”
The bill does allow for exceptions to the rule, saying that an employer “is permitted to impose restrictions on employee use of medical or retail marijuana under specified circumstances.”
According to the Colorado Sun, those exceptions include “workers whose jobs are in dangerous fields or require fine motor skills, such as positions involving the use of heavy machinery.”
HB1152 would resolve a peculiar dilemma in Colorado, where cannabis has become inextricably linked with the state’s culture and economy since voters approved a legalization proposal at the ballot in 2012. Medicinal cannabis has been legal in the state since 2000.
It follows a previous legislative effort, proposed in 2020, that also would have prohibited companies from firing workers for using cannabis outside of work.
Democratic state Representative. Brianna Titone, the chief sponsor of HB 1152, said it doesn’t make sense for a worker to be sacked over a legal activity.
“Marijuana is legal in Colorado,” Titone told the Colorado Sun. “And what people do in their spare time that doesn’t impact their work shouldn’t really be a problem for them. They should be able to enjoy the legal things that we have here in Colorado and not be penalized for it.”
Democratic state Representative Edie Hooton, a co-sponsor of the bill, echoed those sentiments.
“The whole idea is to signal to the business community and to employers that because we have legalized cannabis, we should be following the same laws and rules that apply to alcohol and prescription drugs,” Hooton said, as quoted by the Colorado Sun.
The discrepancy between law and company policy highlights what has been a defining tension of the past decade of legalization in the U.S., even as state after state has followed Colorado’s lead and ended prohibition within its own borders, weed remains illegal on the federal level, and still verboten in other parts of society.
In Colorado, the contradiction bubbled to the surface in 2015, when the state’s Supreme Court “ruled that DISH Network acted legally when it fired a quadriplegic employee, Brandon Coats, who used medical marijuana to treat seizures while he was not at work, after a random drug test turned up positive for marijuana,” according to local television station Denver7.
“It’s frustrating. I can’t get a job, especially with my case out there like that,” Coats said, as quoted by the station. “You can’t get a job for doing something that’s lawful, and it doesn’t make any sense to me.”
The bill has drawn objections, including from the Colorado Chamber of Commerce and Colorado Mining Association.
“Mining and marijuana don’t mix. Mining, like many other professions out there, is an inherently dangerous job no matter what jobs you have in mind. But you can reduce the risk of injury and death. The most important way to do that is to have a zero-tolerance drug policy,” said Stan Dempsey, the president of the Colorado Mining Association, as quoted by Denver7.