Colorado Law Would Protect Workers Who Use Cannabis

A new law filed with the state legislature in Colorado seeks to protect workers who use cannabis in the state. The proposed law bans employers from taking “adverse action” against employees who use legal medical or recreational cannabis. The unlawful actions range from refusing to hire someone to firing someone who already has a job with the company.

The bill will require passage through both chambers of the Colorado Legislature and the governor’s signature to become law. But the law has drawn the interest of cannabis users who currently find themselves living in a gray area when it comes to employment and use of cannabis and CBD.

On the one hand, both medical and recreational marijuana use is legal in many states, including Colorado. On the other, some employees still test for marijuana as part of routine drug tests. It places employees who use marijuana on their own personal time in a difficult position.

The proposed law would change that situation in Colorado. It seeks to protect workers who use cannabis from losing their job, harassment or penalties.

Protecting Workers Who Use Cannabis From Adverse Actions

The bill, filed by Democratic state representatives Edie Hooton and Brianna Titone, would provide protection for both medical and recreational cannabis users.

The bill prohibits employers from taking adverse action against employees, including those applying for employment, who use medical marijuana on the premises of their employment during working hours or use “retail or medical marijuana” off work premises during non-working hours.

The bill allows employers to restrict marijuana use under specific circumstances. However, the bill states that those requirements must relate “to a bona fide occupational requirement or is reasonably and rationally related to the employment activities and responsibilities of a particular employee or a particular group of employees rather than to the occupational requirements of employment activities of all employees.”

For example, the rules on marijuana use might apply differently to those who operate heavy machinery during work hours as opposed to those who do not.

What is an Adverse Action Against an Employee?

The Colorado law lists a variety of adverse actions that it prohibits employers from taking against employees who use cannabis. They include refusing to hire or promote employers, as well as demoting or firing them. The bill also forbids employers from harassing cannabis-using employees or to “discriminate in matters of compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment against an employee.”

“Marijuana is legal in Colorado,” Titone told The Colorado Sun. “And what people do in their spare time that doesn’t impact their work shouldn’t really be a problem for them. They should be able to enjoy the legal things that we have here in Colorado and not be penalized for it.”

While the Colorado proposal ranks among the most sweeping when it comes to governments seeking to protect workers who use cannabis, other public officials have also taken steps elsewhere. Philadelphia is the highest profile example so far of a government succeeding in putting worker protections into place.

A Philadelphia law went into effect in January 2022 that bans employers from testing job applicants for cannabis use. The law focuses on protecting users of medical marijuana, which is legal in Pennsylvania.

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