Effort to protect Colorado workers from getting fired for marijuana use falters

A bill that would have protected workers from getting fired for using medical or recreational marijuana, but rewritten to create a task force just to look at employment around medical marijuana use, fell at its first committee hearing Thursday.

People speaking on behalf of industries that included mining and restaurants opposed the bill arguing they have the right to run their businesses as they see fit and the imperative to make sure no one is impaired while doing potentially dangerous labor.

Rep. Edie Hooton, D-Boulder, sponsored the bill out of concerns for medical marijuana users. She worried current law, where even medical marijuana patients can be fired for use, discriminates against people with disabilities while also sending a message that even medical use is illegitimate and comes with severe impairment.

“I hold no ill will toward employers, even though nothing in the bill would have challenged the prerogative the constitution gives them,” Hooton said after the bill fell almost unanimously in the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee. “They’re absolutely free to ignore any recommendation that the task force would make.”

Rep. Marc Snyder, D-Manitou Springs, questioned if the state Constitution would even allow for rules around medical marijuana use. The 2000 vote by Colorado voters to legalize medical marijuana explicitly stated “that no employer must accommodate medical use of marijuana in the workplace.” A 2015 ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court sided with an employer who fired a quadriplegic employee who failed a drug test due to medical marijuana use.

“I don’t see how we get around that,” he said.

Other lawmakers noted that employers can already decide if they want to allow, or at least let slide, marijuana use. They also voiced concerns that the proposed 15-person task force to examine the issue was tilted too much toward marijuana advocates.

It was the fifth bill aimed at addressing the possibility of workers getting fired for legally using marijuana since medical marijuana was approved by voters in 2000 and recreational marijuana was legalized in 2012, Hooton said.

“We’ll keep plugging away,” Hooton said. “If at some point we have to run another amendment to the constitution, well, we’ll just see what that looks like. I’m not there yet.”

Hooton said she learned at the hearing that 14 other states, and the District of Columbia, have laws to accommodate medical marijuana users, and she hopes to learn more about their systems.

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