It is nothing new under the sun: employees getting fired for smoking marijuana even in states like Colorado where one can legally purchase and consume limited amounts of it. The reason for such a contradiction is that marijuana is still a controlled substance on a federal level and businesses can still prohibit the use of it and choose to terminate employees for smoking the plant even in their private time. Until marijuana is legal under both state and federal law, employers are still able to take whatever action they consider to be prudent.
Take Mike Boyer for instance, who is reportedly the first person to legally buy marijuana in Washington: Boyer received immediate national attention that, unfortunately, his bosses saw it, too. It led to two of his three part-time jobs to request a drug test from him. Boyer did not create a fiasco over the situation with his employers, but was nonetheless unaware of the severity that all the attention brought him.
What about medical marijuana, though? What about those individuals who receive a prescription from their doctor to use medical marijuana for their ailments or disabilities? Should they receive the same penalty as those who use marijuana for recreational purposes?
That is the battle that Brandon Coats faces today. Coats, 35 and who is a quadriplegic, was a teenager when he was paralyzed in a car crash. He began using medical marijuana in 2009 to help calm his violent muscle spasms. He had worked for Dish Network as a telephone operator for three years in Colorado before failing a drug test that he told his employers he would surely fail because of his medical usage in 2010.
Coats says that his use of medical marijuana is well allowed under state law, which protects employees from being terminated for legal activities off duty, but the company disputes that because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, businesses are still able to enforce a zero-tolerance policy.
Coats says that he has never been under the influence at work, but the potent chemical in marijuana, THC, can stay in the body for weeks making it hard for medical users to pass drug tests even while sober. Some lines of work are far too hazardous or sensitive to be under the influence of any drug, but the line between medical and recreational marijuana, even in private use, are still blurred. Coats has not been able to find steady income due to his medical marijuana usage, but plans to continue to fight in hopes of changing how employers treat their employees who privately partake in using medical marijuana for serious conditions.
With all the mixed signals about medical marijuana and employment, as of now, the answer still remains that one can still be fired for smoking a little pot. Employers still have the upper hand with the federal law on their side, so it is still their choosing as to whether or not they decide to test you or even hire you if tests are found marijuana positive.
by Mitchelle Williams