Workplaces NOT going to pot

Misty Aaberg
Misty Aaberg

There’s been a lot of wordplay in Colorado about marijuana: when the smoke clears, up in smoke, rocky mountain high, hazed and confused, grow biz, going green and blunt forces. How about the Boulder brewery that crafted a beer called Recreational Smoke?

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner even caused some chuckles over a weed reference. As reported by the Huffington Post, U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker and Cory Booker were having a carefree chat about where to see cherry blossoms in the spring. Booker said he favored Newark, but Gardner was quick to shout out, “We have some buds in Colorado, too.”

Despite Colorado’s notoriety as a marijuana-friendly state, funny and friendly stops where the workplace begins.

Colorado employers maintain their drug-free workplace policies, and courts continue to uphold their right to do so. Employees who work in a state with the world’s most powerful medical marijuana laws will have to choose between using marijuana and work. Simply put: Companies can bust an employee for testing positive for pot. Medical marijuana card or not, the employee is at risk of disciplinary action or termination.

In June, the Colorado Supreme Court issued a much anticipated decision in Coats v. Dish Network. The case involved Brandon Coats, a Dish Network employee who’s a quadriplegic and consumer of medical marijuana outside of work. The finding in a 6-0 decision was that Dish Network was legally justified in firing Coats in 2010 after he tested positive for tetrahydrocannabional, a component of medical marijuana, in a random drug test — in accordance with its drug-free workplace policy.

Marijuana for medical or recreational purposes remains illegal under federal law and can incur the harshest federal penalties for those caught using it. Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 substance as per the Controlled Substances Act, the most tightly restricted category reserved for drugs deemed to have “no currently accepted medical use.”

One doesn’t have to look hard for news about arguments claiming that cannabis doesn’t meet the Controlled Substances Act strict criteria for placement in Schedule I, which suggests the government would be required by law either to allow medical use or remove the drug from federal control altogether. The government, on the other hand, maintains cannabis is dangerous enough to merit Schedule I status. Neither current case law nor state or federal discrimination laws protect current users of illegal drugs.