Colorado Bill to Prevent Termination for Off-The-Clock Consumption
Published on 3/30/22
To say that medical cannabis has come a very long way in the past few years might still be an understatement considering the amount of progress in the right direction that we've seen. In less than two decades we've gone from cannabis being universally federally illegal, a black market illicit drug with a Schedule I classification saying that it has "no currently accepted medical use," to a thriving multi-billion dollar business that's legal for medical use in 37 states and counting. Despite its legality in well more than half the states in the union, however, the laws protecting workers enrolled in those medical programs are far from comprehensive.
Just like with the state-by-state patchwork nature of cannabis legality, the laws, rules, and legislation protecting medical cannabis patients in the workplace are just as varied. Of those 33 states, the nation's capital, and three U.S. territories that have established medical cannabis programs of their own, only twelve of those states have passed any type of legislation preventing patients from being discriminated against by their employers due to holding their medical cards.
For example, the state of Nevada is currently the only state that forces employers to make reasonable accommodations for workers with medical cannabis cards but has no rules requiring those employers to change work conditions based on "reasonable business purposes." In Pennsylvania, a state whose medical program is less than five years old, has legislation on the books that prevents employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees based solely on their status as a medical cannabis patient but notibly doesn't require employers to make any accommodations for their workers. Even Colorado, one of the first states to decriminalize and legalize both medical and recreational cannabis and easily one of the most mature and well-developed legal cannabis markets in the world, currently has absolutely no laws, rules, or legislation on the books protecting cannabis users in terms of employment and even allows for worker with valid medical card to be fired if they test positive on a drug test.
That's why so many were excited when Colorado legislature proposed House Bill 1152, a sweeping and comprehensive bill that would not only put protections in place for those using recreational cannabis in their off-time from work, but would also make Colorado the first state to legally permit the use of medical cannabis at work. Let's dig a little deeper into that bill, shall we?
House Bill 1152: What It Would Do and Why It Matters
While it's admittedly unlikely that this bill will pass in its current form, the ideas it brings forward are innovative to say the least. Not only would the bill bar employers from taking punitive, adverse actions against employees for off-hours recreational cannabis use, but it would allow for valid, card-holding medical patients to use their medication during work hours.
Here's a list of things that bill would consider adverse actions against an employee:
- To refuse to hire
- To discharge
- To refuse to promote
- To demote
- To harass during the course of employment
- To discriminate in matters of compensations, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment against an employee
- Any other employment decision or treatment that adversely affects an employee
And when you hear the logic of proposing the bill from the legislators themselves who introduced it, it makes even more sense. Colorado State Rep. Brianna Titone, one of the primary sponsors on the bill, told reporters that Coloradans "should be able to enjoy the legal things" allowed in the state "and not be penalized for it."
"Marijuana is legal in Colorado. And what people do in their spare time that doesn't impact their work shouldn't really be a problem for them." she continued.
Fellow co-prime sponsor of the bill Rep. Edie Hooton doubled down on the utility of the bill, telling reporters that the "whole idea" of the proposal "is to signal to the business community and to employers that because we have legalized cannabis we should be following the same laws and rules that apply to alcohol and prescription drugs."
Both sponsors of the bill make great points. Recreational and medical cannabis are both fully legal in the state of Colorado, yet workers and medical patients alike still avoid using it for fear of being fired from their jobs if they test positive. Just imagine if that same principal were applied to another controlled substance like alcohol and you'll see why the current Colorado laws on the books are restrictive and overly-punitive for medical patients and recreational users alike. It's clear that something needs to change when it comes to the laws surrounding employment and legal cannabis. But what can actually be done?
How Could This Problem Be Fixed?
If you're thinking all of that sounds convoluted, complicated, and unfair to recreational users, you're right. Thankfully there's an easy fix for all of these issues. Making cannabis federally legal would allow for every state to unify their laws, rules and regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The only way for that to happen, however, is for activists, medical cannabis patients, and lawmakers like the ones in Colorado to keep pushing forward and progressing the legalisation of cannabis. If one state, especially a progressive and forward-thinking state when it comes to cannabis like Colorado or California, passes a bill to protect the rights of workers, others are sure to follow. And while it's admittedly unlikely that HB 1152 will pass in its current form without amendments and changes, any types of laws on the books are a step in the right direction for workers. After all, that's how the initial push for legal weed happened in the first place. California set off a domino effect that's still fall to this day, with Mississippi becoming the most recent state to approve a medical program of their own!
With the vast majority of Americans from both sides of the aisle in support of legal cannabis nationwide, it seems like only a matter of time before cannabis patients and recreational users alike can stop worrying about outdated, prohibition-era rules regarding cannabis and just use their medicine without fear of repercussions in the workplace!
What are your thoughts on HB 1152? Do you think it will pass, or is just a dream? Share with us in the comments below!