Fired Marijuana User Can't Sue Employer in Montana

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on November 27, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As recreational and medicinal marijuana use becomes legal in more states, companies with drug-free employment policies are wondering how long they will be able to enforce them. So long as marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, states are allowed to choose whether employers can mandate drug-free policies.

If No State Law Preventing Employers From Prohibiting Marijuana Use, Fire Away!

Because federal law still considers marijuana use to be illegal, employers are allowed to make employment policies regarding its use, so long as they are in-line with state law. For instance, in Montana, Charter Communications fired one of its employees, Lance Carlson, for his legal marijuana use outside of work, in violation of the company's employment policies. Carlson sued Charter for wrongful termination and discrimination.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in affirming the lower court's ruling, stated that Charter was within its right to fire Carlson for his marijuana use, since marijuana use was strictly forbidden in the employment handbook. The court noted that because the Montana Marijuana Act, which legalized marijuana in that state, does not specifically prevent employers from prohibiting employees from using marijuana, such prohibition is OK, because marijuana isn't legal on a federal level. In laymen's terms, if a state law is silent on whether employers can keep workers from smoking weed, employers can keep on drug testing and firing for legal weed usage.

If State Law Prevents Marijuana Testing, You're Free to Burn!

A state could have a Marijuana Act that specifically prohibits employers from requiring drug-free employees. For instance, in 2018, Maine became the first state to protect workers and their non-workplace marijuana use by forbidding employers from drug testing for marijuana. Specifically, Maine's Act to Legalize Marijuana forbids employers from discriminating against employees based on their legal marijuana use, though it does allow employers to prohibit the use and possession of marijuana "in the workplace." So if you work in Maine, smoke as much as you legally desire, but don't do it at work.

Federal Legalization of Recreational Marijuana Use

If the federal government ever legalized recreational marijuana use, employers would no longer be able to discriminate against employees based on legal usage. But until that day comes, states will be able to dictate whether workers can be fired for their legal marijuana usage.

If you have been terminated due to legal recreational marijuana use, contact an employment lawyer. A legal adviser can best decipher your employment agreement and give you guidance on whether or not you can be fired for your marijuana usage.

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