Since last fall, when Colorado voters chose to lead the country in legalizing recreational marijuana, the state court and legislature have been assembling to institute a framework for dealing with the impact cannabis usage will have on other areas of government.
For instance, police officers are learning how to handle drivers under the influence of marijuana and the courts are deciding how to punish those offenders. Since legalized recreational pot is a new frontier, it comes with all kinds of new problems to be solved.
One of these confrontations is how to deal with marijuana usage when considering workers’ compensation and job protection.
A recent ruling by the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed that workers can still be fired from their jobs for testing positive for marijuana, despite the new law allowing its recreational usage.
The plaintiff, a man who was paralyzed with a spine injury, used medical marijuana—sanctioned by the state of Colorado—to control his muscle spasms. He sued his employer who fired him after failing a drug test, arguing that he never came to work inhibited by marijuana and that without the medicine his back spasms would have made it impossible for him to continue working.
Ultimately, the man lost the case because although marijuana is now legalized in the state of Colorado, on a federal level it is still considered an illegal substance, and since feral law trumps state law, the employer has legal precedent to fire a worker testing positive for marijuana.
In addition to ruling that workers can be fired for having state legalized cannabis in their blood, the case may also have an impact on claiming workers’ compensation.
Many employers require a drug test as part of the workers’ compensation claim process, and if an injured worker tests positive for marijuana, the amount of compensation they can receive can be negatively affected, even if the drug use was state sanctioned.
Testing positive on a drug test will not affect a company’s legal obligation to pay for medical expenses and recovery in most cases, however non-medical benefits, as well as lost wages, could be withheld.
Since marijuana stays in a user’s bloodstream for an extended time period, workers may test positive for the substance long after they last ingested it, leading employers to think their performance at work was affected.
The paralyzed man is appealing the court’s decision, but until then, hundreds of thousands of registered medical marijuana patients are at risk of losing their jobs and receiving less compensation in the event of a work-related injury.
And with the growth of recreational pot use, similar cases will undoubtedly arise more frequently as state courts try figure out how to deal with legalized marijuana in a country where it remains illegal for the most part.
For now, it is especially important to talk to an experienced Colorado workers’ compensation attorney if you test positive for marijuana that was approved by the state and your employer tries to deny you full compensation.