Myth #2: An employer cannot prohibit the use of medical marijuana at the workplace.
Fact: This is certainly a hot topic in our current environment of relaxed state laws pertaining to marijuana use. Fortunately for employers who want to keep marijuana users out of the workplace, federal law still classifies marijuana as an illegal substance under the federal Controlled Substance Act and, as such, protects employer rights to terminate employment due to marijuana usage—whether it’s medical OR recreational.
The preeminent case occurred in Colorado, and involved a quadriplegic employee who used medical marijuana to control seizures, and who was terminated by DISH Network for failing a random workplace drug test. In 2011, the county court dismissed the employee’s claim that he was wrongfully terminated and should have been protected under Colorado’s Lawful Activities Statute (section 24-34-402.5). That statute protects employees from being terminated for lawful use of marijuana outside the job, where the use does not affect job performance. The county court, however, sided with the employer, stating that Colorado’s Medical Marijuana Amendment only protects an individual from prosecution under state statute but does not make the act “lawful activity.”
On appeal, the judge determined that federal law takes precedence over state law regarding marijuana, and Colorado’s Supreme Court followed suit. The Court referenced Gonzales v. Raich (545 U.S. 1(2005)), which stated that “the Supremacy Clause unambiguously provides that if there is a conflict between federal and state law, federal law shall prevail.” Because marijuana consumption was not “lawful” under federal law, Colorado’s Supreme Court sided with DISH Network and upheld Coats’ termination.