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Colorado won’t stop employers from firing workers for using weed off the clock

Colorado legislators decided Wednesday not to advance a bill that aimed to protect employees from being fired for using marijuana in their personal time.

The 10 members of the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee voted unanimously against the bill, HB 20-1089, after nearly three hours of testimony from people on each side.

Though the bill would have done nothing to prohibit employers from administering drug tests, many committee members cited the lack of an adequate test to determine whether an employee is intoxicated in the moment — much like a breathalyzer does for alcohol — as a reason to table it. Others thought the proposed change to the law was too broad.

“The concern about keeping a workplace safe and not having a reliable method for testing people’s impairment, the interest in maintaining a productive workplace, I think those are compelling,” said Rep. Shannon Bird, D-Westminster.

“I do find some compelling arguments of people needing to use cannabis for medical reasons,” she added. “The bill, I think, is much broader than that, than trying to narrow in on that conversation about how we make sure that people don’t lose their jobs for taking something they need to make it through the day.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, was inspired by a court case in which Brandon Coats, a medical marijuana patient, was fired from Dish Network after failing a drug test. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled in favor of the employer because justices believed the state’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute defined “lawful” as adhering to both state and federal law.

Because marijuana is still a Schedule I drug federally, the bill aimed to make the use of cannabis a lawful off-duty activity since it is legal at the state level.

Kimberlie Ryan, an attorney with the Ryan Law Firm who specializes in employment discrimination law, testified in favor of the bill and was disappointed with the committee’s decision.

“The legislature missed an amazing opportunity to protect workers and employers alike by sticking with an outdated view of cannabis and by abandoning the constitutional protections that are guaranteed by the Colorado Constitution,” Ryan said.