Marijuana has been legal for medical use in Colorado since 2000 and for recreational use since 2012. Coats argue that the drug policy was discriminatory under Colorado law. Specifically, the Colorado statute that outlines “Unlawful prohibition of legal activities as a condition of employment,” declaring that:
“It shall be a discriminatory or unfair employment practice for an employer to terminate the employment of any employee due to that employee’s engaging in any lawful activity off the premises of the employer during nonworking hours…” 24-34-402.5(1), 14 C.R.S. (2014)
“under the plain language of…Colorado’s “lawful activities statute,” the term “lawful” refers only to those activities that are lawful under both state and federal law. Therefore, employees who engage in an activity such as medical marijuana use that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute.”
Pass the Legislation to the Left Hand Side
By defining “lawful” under both state and federal law, the court avoided the widespread implications of exempting the application of any federal crime that is not mirrored by state law.
Specifically, the decision is precedent setting for any future situation where an employee is fired in Colorado for failing a mandatory drug test.
Because of this ruling, unless the legislature adds a provision that exempts the use of substances that are legal for medical use in the state of Colorado, or marijuana is finally allowed for medical use under federal law, the court’s interpretation will stand.
Adderall is a Schedule II federally controlled substance (Cocaine is also Schedule II). Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I federally controlled substance, the same as heroin or LSD. On many drug tests, heroin shows up as an opiate, the same as many legally prescribed pain medications. Again, if an employee then provides proof of a prescription for Vicodin or Tylenol 3, the positive result is thrown out.
In light of this ruling, HR professionals may either celebrate the win, or start revising drug use policies. At least with medical marijuana patients, an employer knows exactly what they are dealing with, instead of accidentally employing a heroin addict that got her hands on a prescription for Vicodin.