One Colorado Lawmaker Wants to Protect your Right to Consume Cannabis When Not at Work
By Claire Kurowsky
In 2012, it was a heart-breaking story.
Post-legalization, it should sound too preposterous to believe. It should, but the battle still lingers on for those like Brandon Coats, whose case dragged through the Colorado court system for years.
Coats is the paralyzed medical marijuana patient who was fired from his DISH Network job in 2012 after testing positive for cannabis use.
However, a new champion for the cause is doing what many said should be done — what just ‘feels right’ — but what nonetheless has yet to be put into place.
State Representative Jovan Melton is the democrat from Aurora who has officially sponsored House Bill 1089 which, if passed, “prohibits an employer from terminating an employee” for “lawful off-duty activities,” even if those activities are illegal under federal law — such as consumption of cannabis.
After all, the voter-passed Amendment 64 of 2012 stipulated that “marijuana should be regulated in a manner similar to alcohol,” a directive lost on many Colorado employers, who often still fire employees for testing positive for cannabis use, even though they fully admit the employee wasn’t high on the job.
DISH Network’s winning 2015 argument: Colorado law still says the term “lawful” refers only to activities that are legal under both state and federal law.
In Coats’ case, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed with DISH, ruling that employees can be fired for legal, off-duty cannabis use, because it isn’t clearly defined as “lawful” under state law.
Melton credits the work of activists at the Colorado branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, who approached him with Coats’ story just before the start of the 2020 legislative session, inspiring the new bill.
NORML did their homework: Melton is no stranger to cannabis law reform.
He’s worked on legislation which addressed adding new medical marijuana conditions to the list of approved ailments, and also worked on the (albeit still-troubled) social consumption law.
Melton’s next legislative adventure, House Bill 1089, is still more far-reaching. While the current narrative centers around employee’s legal, off-duty medical marijauna use, 1089’s language is such that if the future holds the legalization of something else entirely, psilocybin or even MDMA, for example, the bill would cover that too.
Those who work under federal guidelines, such as pilots or postal workers, would not be exempt, however. The bill would also not exactly make it ‘illegal’ to fire an employee for legal cannabis use, but would empower the employee with the right to sue.
“I can’t believe we’ve had this much oversight and lack of protection for someone who’s using medical marijuana, or recreational, which is something that is legal in Colorado,” Melton told Denver’s Westword.
The Colorado House Business Affairs and Labor Committee will hold the bill’s first hearing at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 5. Read the entire House Bill 1089 at leg.colorado.gov/bills/hb20-1089.