OK to Fire Medical Pot Patients: Colo. Court

By Brett Snider, Esq. on April 29, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Colorado Court of Appeals handed down a major bummer for pot patients last week, confirming that it is OK for employers to fire employees who smoke medical marijuana.

The court ruled that since medical marijuana is prohibited under federal law, companies like Dish Network are free to terminate employees who test positive for pot, the Associated Press reports.

Still, after the voter initiative in Colorado that legalized recreational marijuana use, why is it OK to fire pot users?

'Lawful Activity'

The Colorado court based much of its decision on an interpretation of a Colorado law that prevents employees from being fired for engaging in a "lawful activity" outside of work.

Chief Judge Janice Davidson stated in her opinion that a lawful activity cannot be prohibited by either state or federal law. But since marijuana use is still illegal under federal law, it cannot be a protected "lawful activity."

This means that Colorado employers can continue to fire employees who use Colorado-sanctioned recreational pot, and even medical marijuana, without violating Colorado's laws protecting employees.

Employer Pot Policies

This is not the first time that partaking in cannabis has run up against company policy.

Washington, a state where voters also approved recreational use of marijuana by popular vote last fall, also allows employers to fire medical pot users if they run afoul of a company's drug policy.

One of the country's biggest employers, Walmart, has repeatedly been supported by the courts in firing medical marijuana patients, despite state laws supporting patients' medical use of the drug.

State Pot Laws Do Not Affect Employers

Much of the conflict between medical marijuana and employer policies lies in the fact that state marijuana laws do not contain provisions to specifically protect employees from being fired for medical marijuana use.

Lawmakers in California have attempted to pass bills that would have protected employees who legally medicate with pot. One attempt was vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, while another failed to win enough support.

So until state marijuana legislation is more comprehensive, employees who take advantage of state-sanctioned medical pot can still be fired.

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