Colorado Supreme Court Considering Marijuana Use and Employment Today

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The Colorado Supreme Court is hearing a case about whether it is legal for an employee to use medical marijuana on their own time today. In 2010, Brandon Coats was fired from his job with Dish Network after he failed a drug test by testing positive for cannabis. There was no evidence that he was impaired on the job. Moreover, Coats is a quadripeligic, who unquestionably has medical reasons to be using cannabis in his home, when not at work. Coats has been fighting his termination, using the Colorado Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute. The law protects employee’s right to engage in company prohibited activities, such as smoking tobacco, on their own time provided that it does not impact their work performance.

The Supreme Court will be specifically considering whether the use of medical marijuana can be construed as “lawful” and thus entitled to protection under the Colorado Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute. Eyes all over the country, from drug testing companies to businesses with questionably harsh drug-testing policies are focused on this case. The precedent it sets may be a boon for big business and discrimination, or it may be the beginning of actual rights for medical marijuana patients in this country.

Drug testing in the workplace has become so common that even minimum wage positions often require a urine drug screen prior to beginning employment. The primary issue with these tests is that, in reality, the only thing they will likely ever detect is cannabis, as almost all hard drugs are out of an user’s system with an day or two while cannabis and its metabolites can be detected for multiple months after cessation of use. Many see them as a form of institutionalized discrimination against medical marijuana and recreational cannabis users, and there is no evidence they deter people from using drugs or aid in the sourcing of better employees.

Considering that marijuana use is legal in two states, Washington and Colorado, the concept of testing employees for marijuana is now a legally murky one. While the substance is still federally illegal, is it acceptable for a business to fire someone for something they do on their own time? After all, employers do not test for alcohol metabolites every Monday to prevent workers from coming to their place of business hungover, which could actually impact work performance.


A live broadcast of the oral arguments can be viewed here. The hearings today begin at 9 am and are expected to last roughly an hour.


For previous Ladybud coverage of workplace drug testing, click here.

Photo Credit: USAID under public domain via Wikimedia Commons