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Marijuana Laws and Your Employees: Examining the High Points

Beth Dean 09.21.18
42 Leaf Plant On White

Marijuana is currently legal for recreational use in four states and allowed for medical use in several more.

Weeding through the various marijuana state laws and how they interact with workplace policies can be difficult, but a Colorado Supreme Court ruling recently made it a lot more blunt.

Although workplace policies generally must follow federal, state, and local laws, they’ve hashed out an exception for marijuana. Even in states that allow the use of marijuana, a company’s drug-free workplace policy can trump state law.

Example: Mary Jane, a Colorado employee, uses the legally-allowed amount of recreational marijuana while off-the-clock at home, then tests positive to a random drug screen the next week. If the company has a zero-tolerance drug-free workplace policy, Mary Jane can be subject to termination.

The Colorado Supreme Court further cemented the company’s ability to overrule state law in a ruling that many believe will set precedent for Colorado and other states in which marijuana use is legal. A quadriplegic employee had a medical marijuana card, consuming it while off duty to manage leg spasms. After he tested positive in a random drug screen, he was fired by his employer for violating their zero-tolerance drug-free workplace policy. The Colorado Supreme Court upheld the termination as lawful. Since recreational and medical marijuana use in unlawful on the federal level, the state’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities statute would not protect an employee who is violating an established company policy.

Further, the legalization of marijuana does not cross state lines. If an employee consumes marijuana in a state where it’s legal, then comes home and fails a company’s drug screen, the employee can be subject to the consequences lined out in the company’s drug-free workplace policy, including termination.

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