Legalization of Marijuana Complicates Work Drug Policies

Aug 21, 2014 | WC & Other Laws

The Colorado Marijuana Legalization Amendment, also known as Amendment 64, has been approved this 2012. The amendment will legalize the use of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use in Colorado by January 2013. Although marijuana advocates have enough reason to rejoice over the passing of Amendment 64, complications on work policies brought by said law have been recognized by many. If you are an employee in Colorado and would like to use marijuana, you better check first with the work policies of your office, especially if you know that your office has stringent measures in maintaining its worksite drug-free.

Before the passage of Amendment 64, medical marijuana was already legalized in Colorado since 2000. However, federal law prevents many doctors from prescribing it. The conflict between state law and federal law has led to many uncertainties. Although medical marijuana cards are being secured by many people from Colorado, employers are unsure about their obligations to their employees who were prescribed to use medical marijuana. At the same time, employees with medical marijuana cards are clueless about their rights. Up to this date, it has not been resolved whether an employee bearing a valid medical marijuana card can be terminated or reprimanded for reporting for work with marijuana in his or her system and whether such employee can raise a valid claim against his employer in case he is terminated.

A case relevant to the issue at hand involves Brandon Coats, a telephone operator from Colorado, who has been paralyzed in a car crash and has been in medical marijuana since 2009. Coats was fired from his job in 2010 for failing a company drug test. He sued his employer but lost in the case as the trial court judge decided in favor of his employer, stating that medical marijuana is not a “lawful activity” contemplated by the law. His case is currently pending with the Court of Appeals.

Legal questions brought about by the legalization of medical marijuana in 2000 have not yet been resolved and yet, another wave of confusion is set to arise with the passage of Amendment 64.

Since federal law penalizes possession of marijuana, courts in states which legalize the use of marijuana have sided with the employers and permitted them not to allow their employees’ use of marijuana even if outside of their work. This has caused many disgruntled employees to be terminated from work. With the passing of Amendment 64, such a scenario is not far from happening in Colorado.

In order to make a new law work, Colorado companies are highly advised to revisit their policies on drugs and assess how they can reconcile them with the present laws and rules in the state. It would be better still for employers to initiate a dialogue with their workers on how to address the issue of the legalization of marijuana and medical marijuana. But most importantly, its implication on workers’ compensation should also be analyzed.

With all the possible complications brought about by the legalization of marijuana, you may encounter issues with your employers. If this happens, you will need the assistance of a workers’ compensation lawyer to help you get your claims effectively. Make sure to get advice from one of the workers’ compensation attorneys of Kaplan Morrell. Call 303.780.7329 or click here for a free consultation today!