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Colorado Supreme Court Rules on Medical Marijuana

Posted Monday, June 15, 2015 by Jim Kyger, SPHR, CCP, CBP Asst. VP of HR Printing Industries of America.

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alt textThe Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday that an employer maintains the right to have a policy restricting the use of medical marijuana by employees (Coats v. Dish Network). The Court held that the Colorado law that defines “lawful” activities means activities that are lawful under both state and federal laws. State Supreme Courts in California, Montana and Washington have come to similar conclusions.

Colorado’s Lawful Activities Statute states that “lawful activities” are protected if off-duty and not on employer premises (bona fide restrictions apply, such as safety sensitive). Under federal law, marijuana use is illegal under the Controlled Substances Act, however the Justice Department decided in 2009 not to prosecute medical marijuana users who are complying under state law.

Arizona, Delaware, and Minnesota have statutes (with exceptions that relate to federal law compliance) that expressly prohibit employers from firing an employee for a positive marijuana drug test if that employee holds a valid marijuana prescription, however these laws have not be tested in the courts by employers. These three state’s statutes have very similar text with regards to employer prohibitions, but Colorado’s text if very different.Today, 24 states passed laws allowing the use of medical marijuana. Four states (CO, WA, AK, OR) and Washington, D.C. have passed laws permitting “recreational” use. Oregon’s recreational use law, which takes effect in July, allows employer to maintain a drug-free policy and drug test employees and applicants.