Proposed bill would bar Colorado employers from firing workers over marijuana use

Posted at 6:42 PM, Feb 09, 2022

DENVER — For years now, marijuana has been legal in Colorado on a recreational and medical level.

However, employers in the state still have the ability to drug test for marijuana and implement a zero-tolerance policy.

Now, state lawmakers are once again considering a bill that would bar employers from firing workers simply over their cannabis use.

HB22-1152 would require employers to allow their employees to use medical marijuana on premises during work hours and use recreational or medical marijuana off premises during non-work hours.

The bill does carve out some exceptions for professions that are dangerous or require certain skills.

Carolyn Edwards lost her job last year over a positive drug test. Edwards has been a nurse anesthetist for 35 years. She suffers from a genetic condition that causes extreme pain at times.

To manage the pain, Edwards started using a CBD product known as Charlotte's Web. However, the THC from the product showed up in a drug test.

“I don't use THC, I don't use marijuana. I was simply using an over-the-counter, legal medicine that had 0.1% THC, which resulted in a positive drug screen,” she said. “Even my doctor said that CBD is the best medicine for my disease.”

Edwards was placed on administrative leave for two weeks before being asked to sign a form admitting that she used drugs.

She says the form also required her to agree to random drug tests for a year and to attend monthly drug rehabilitation counseling. She refused to sign the paper and her employment was terminated.

“It was a one of the most traumatic moments of my life because I felt persecuted,” she said.

Edwards is not alone; in 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that DISH Network acted legally when it fired a quadriplegic employee, Brandon Coats, who used medical marijuana to treat seizures while he was not at work, after a random drug test turned up positive for marijuana.

“It's frustrating. I can't get a job, especially with my case out there like that,” Coats said. “You can't get a job for doing something that's lawful, and it doesn't make any sense to me.”

However, the Colorado Chamber of Commerce has concerns with the bill.

The president and CEO of the group, Loren Furman, says this is not what voters agreed to when they passed the constitutional amendment in 2012.

“It's clear that the intent of the voters was to maintain the status quo for employers and employees, and then employers may maintain create new or modify existing policies in response to the passage of Amendment 64. So, they clearly intended for employers to have that flexibility in their contemplation of this amendment,” Furman said.

If the rules around zero-tolerance policies were to change, Furman insists it should be up to the voters and not state lawmakers to change.

The Colorado Mining Association is also opposed to the legislation, saying there are some professions for which this bill simply cannot work.

“Mining and marijuana don't mix. Mining, like many other professions out there, is an inherently dangerous job no matter what jobs you have in mind. But you can reduce the risk of injury and death. The most important way to do that is to have a zero-tolerance drug policy,” said Stan Dempsey, the president of the Colorado Mining Association.

The association also opposed a 2020 version of the bill that would have taken similar steps. Dempsey believes this legislation goes against safety in the workplace since it’s hard to tell if the employee is high while working or simply has THC left over in their system.

Coats isn’t very optimistic about the new bill’s chances of passing. Last time around, he says a lot of lobbying happened to ensure that the legislation failed and both Republicans and Democrats ultimately ended up voting against it.

He’s not sure what it would take this time around to get enough votes to pass it.

Nevertheless, Edwards is hoping Colorado lawmakers will take a closer at the new bill, saying it has the potential to help her and many others like her.

“It would give me justice for an injustice to me personally, professionally, financially and for my reputation,” she said.

The bill was introduced last week and will face its first hearing in the House Business Affairs and Labor committee.