Even Where Pot is Legal, Getting High Can Still Get You Fired.
In Colorado, where both medical and recreational marijuana is legal under state law, it would be reasonable to believe that sitting on one’s back porch smoking a joint at the end of a long day would be of no more consequence than drinking a glass of wine or cracking open a beer. No one, rightly, would expect to be fired from their job if they had a drink or three while off duty, so long as they were not impaired when they showed up to work. Why it wouldn’t be the same for perfectly legal pot?
Because pot is still an illegal substance under federal law, that’s why.
Not Legal Under Federal Law
Brandon Coats is a quadriplegic medical marijuana patient from Colorado who was fired by Dish Network in 2010 for using the drug while at home and off-duty, even though he “was never accused or suspected of being under the influence and received satisfactory performance reviews all three years [he worked at the company],” according to his attorney. The Colorado Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, recently held that he could be fired for having THC in his system because smoking pot was not a protected activity under Colorado’s “Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute.”
Under that statute, employers are prohibited from terminating “the employment of any employee due to that employee’s engaging in any lawful activity off the premises of the employer during nonworking hours.”
The Court noted that even though marijuana is legal under Colorado state law, it is still a prohibited substance under federal law and thus is not a “lawful activity” under the statute:
“The Supreme Court holds that under… Colorado’s ‘lawful activities statute,’ the term ‘lawful’ refers only to those activities that are lawful under both state and federal… Therefore, employees who engage in an activity such as medical marijuana use that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute.”
Colorado is one of only four states (along with California, New York, and North Dakota) that has such a “lawful activities” statute. Indiana has no such law, though it does have a statute that protects the rights of employees to smoke tobacco outside of the course of their employment.
Until action is taken on the federal level, state laws legalizing marijuana will not necessarily prevent adverse consequences from happening to pot smokers. Keep that in mind when you head off to that ski trip in the Rockies.
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