As of January, recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado, but it can also be a reason for job termination.
On January 1, 2014 Colorado became the first state – and the first place in the world – to fully legalize the sale and consumption of recreational marijuana by individuals aged 21 and over. According to initial reports, the roll-out of Colorado’s experiment in cannabis consumerism has proven to be a qualified success. Buyers have thus far demonstrated strong demand for the drug, with initial results being long lines outside of dispensaries, price hikes, and limited supplies in some of the 37 licensed marijuana shops in Denver and across the state. In the first few days of sale, some retailers even struggled to keep enough of the drug on shelves.
According to the Denver Post, vigorous demand has driven marijuana prices up temporarily, with the cost of an eighth of an ounce ranging between $30 to $50 dollars or more, prior to taxes. (By way of comparison, an ounce of medical marijuana was priced at about $25 on December 31st.) Nevertheless, many buyers travelled considerable distances and braved lengthy queues for their chance at up to an ounce of legal cannabis for state residents, and a quarter-ounce for visiting, out-of-state buyers. (“World's First Legal Recreational Marijuana Sales Begin in Colorado.”)
While legal in Colorado, marijuana is still considered a controlled substance under federal law, and this leaves open certain questions regarding its consumption.
Some commentators have pointed out that consumers must remain vigilant about the drug, lest they run afoul of the law or even of their employers. A recent CNN Money article reminds readers that any individual business may prohibit the consumption of the drug by its employees through the institution of a zero-tolerance policy on marijuana. This means that, because of the ongoing tension between state and federal laws, an employee could potentially be terminated for smoking pot in the workplace, and (under the strictest of rules) for smoking “in private, on personal time.”
The article includes comments by Curtis Graves, a lawyer with the nonprofit Mountain States Employers Council, an organization that represents about 3,000 companies, many of them located in Colorado. According to Graves,
If a company has a drug policy in place, and an employee fails a drug test, ‘employers can take whatever action they deem to be prudent.’ (“Smoking Pot Can Still Get You Fired in Colorado.”)
Like most states, Colorado follows what is known as an “employment-at-will” policy. According to its Department of Labor & Employment website, this means that, in the absence of an explicit employment contract, neither employers nor employees need give notice or grounds prior to termination or resignation. Exceptions occur in the case of wrongful termination based on discrimination due to “disability, race, creed, color, sex, age, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, and ancestry,” or in violation of public policy, such as “filing a worker's compensation claim; bringing or threatening a lawsuit; serving on a jury; engaging in lawful off-duty activities; refusing to commit perjury; whistleblower situations, etc.” Outside these parameters, workers can be released from, or leave, employment entirely at will.
Readers may note the phrase "engaging in lawful off-duty activities" above. But, because the use of legal marijuana in Colorado remains an unexplored area, legally speaking, if an employer and/or work contract explicitly prohibits the use of the drug in (or even out of) the workplace, employees are encouraged to take heed and act accordingly.