Can I be Denied Colorado Workers' Compensation from Smoking Legal Marijuana?

Over the years there has been much controversy between employers and employees in Colorado regarding the use of legal marijuana and the right to compensation for work-related injuries. Although a state may pass a law that recreational and/or medical marijuana is legal (as Colorado did in 2012), an employee's fate regarding workers compensation coverage in the event of an injury on the job is left completely in the hands of the employer.

The state of California first made medical marijuana legal in 1996 and an increasing number of states have followed suit. In 2000, Colorado passed the medical marijuana law, and in 2012 they passed the 64th amendment making recreational use of marijuana legal as well.

However, what many workers fail to understand is that the federal government still deems cannabis, whether recreational or medical, as explicitly illegal. In the end, federal law trumps state law when it comes to matters of workers' compensation.

Penalties of Employee Medical Marijuana Use

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects most employees with serious medical conditions from being discriminated against by their employer. However, it does not protect them from the federal government ban on marijuana use in any form.

There are thousands of cannabis users in the state of Colorado alone. Each day, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment receives approximately 400 medical marijuana card applications per day.

Even with a medical marijuana card though, using this substance at work is not permissible. Employers are entirely within their right to ban their workers from using medical marijuana while on the job or fire workers who come to the job while under the influence. This also means that employers' insurance carriers have precedent to withhold workers' compensation benefits to an employee who is hurt on the job and tests positive for marijuana.

The THC in marijuana can stay in a person's bloodstream for up to 40 days; therefore if a worker is injured on the job and asked to take a drug test, the results may come back positive even if they haven't ingested cannabis in several weeks. A positive drug test can have terrible consequences on an injured worker's compensation amount.

In fact, Colorado's workers compensation statute says that one can lose up to 50 percent of wages and benefits if it is determined that the injured worker may have been impaired due to marijuana.

With so many new laws regarding marijuana, there are many legal issues that must still be worked out. Workers' compensation is one of them. For now, please know that if you choose to ingest marijuana in any form—be it recreationally or medically—you do so at your own risk of relinquishing your workers' comp rights.

Man Fired for Using Medical Cannabis

A recent Colorado court of appeals ruling proved that one can certainly be fired for testing positive for medical marijuana. Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who worked for Dish Network, used medical marijuana to control his back spasms, believing he was legally protected by the Medical Marijuana Amendment.

However, his employer fired him after he tested positive on a drug test, leading him to file suit with Dish shortly thereafter. He argued his case by saying medical marijuana never inhibited his work performance and the pain relief provided by the cannabis treatment was what in fact allowed him to be able to perform his job. In the end, his case was dismissed by the court after they concluded that Coats' use of medical marijuana was not a "lawful activity" under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Marijuana and Your Legal Right to Workers' Comp

Only time will tell how this issue will ultimately play out, but for now please be aware that if you are injured on the job and a drug test is required that your benefits may be negatively affected for testing positive for marijuana use—regardless of state law or whether you have a medical marijuana card.

However, if you have been wrongly denied workers compensation or your benefits have been drastically reduced for reasons you are not aware of, contact Mack Babcock immediately. As an experienced workers' compensation attorney, Mack and the skilled legal team at The Babcock Law Firm are committed to defending the rights of Aurora, Littleton and Denver residents.

To learn more about Colorado workers' compensation law and how to obtain your benefits in the event of a work injury, visit our knowledge center and legal blog.

**NOTE – this article and all content at is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice

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