Why Legal Marijuana Use Can Get You Fired

State laws don't protect users from workplace discrimination

Herbal Medicine
If marijuana use is legal in your state, or if you have a legal prescription for medical marijuana, are you safe from being fired? The short answer is no. Worse, if you work for a legal marijuana dispensary, you can still be convicted of a crime for doing your job.

Why? There are two big reasons legal marijuana use can get you fired:
  1. Federal law: Marijuana use is still illegal under federal law. Although the feds are slowly backing off enforcement of some laws that targeted marijuana sales and marijuana use, people are still getting prosecuted. Federal employment laws haven't caught up with state laws, even for medical marijuana use. If you have a disability that is protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act, right now that law doesn't protect you.
  2. Drug testing: The Washington Supreme Court ruled that their state law doesn't keep employers from drug testing employees and firing them for positive results. Same with a case in Michigan against Wal-Mart. Colorado followed suit. Employers can fire you for testing positive for marijuana use even in states where it is legal, and even if you need the marijuana for a disability.

Some states have made discrimination against medical marijuana users illegal. Connecticut, Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, and Rhode Island all prohibit workplace discrimination regarding medical marijuana users. However, even these state laws don't protect employees who are impaired on the job.

Other states prohibit termination/discrimination based upon an employee's lawful off-duty activities. These states include California and Colorado. So why can employers still fire employees when their marijuana use is legal under state law? Because it's still illegal under federal law. The courts say that "legal" means completely legal, not just legal under state law. Some catch, huh?

Still others prohibit discrimination against employees for use of "lawful consumable products" such as tobacco, so maybe the laws will protect marijuana users as it becomes legal in those states, but I suspect that pesky federal law will continue to zap employees.

Bottom line? Legal marijuana use can still get you fired. Whether or not you need marijuana for a disability and have a prescription, your job is at risk if your employer finds out.

If you think this is wrong, then it's time to put pressure on the federal government to change our outdated marijuana laws. Tell your member of Congress and your Senators that you think it should be up to the states whether or not to legalize marijuana. Better yet, tell them to legalize it completely. Tell them that it should be between a patient and their doctor whether marijuana is the right choice to treat an illness, and that prescribed marijuana should be covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

In the meantime, if you're using marijuana legally in your state, be discreet. Don't post it on your social media, stay clean well before any drug test, and don't discuss it with your co-workers.

If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs.

Please note: Anything you write to me may be featured in one of my columns. I won't be able to respond individually to questions.

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Matt Harrell

This really needs to change. I am looking to get my medical card, since I have chronic lower back pain and work a job where I'm on my feet, on concrete, 8 hours a day and drive a fork truck. I would never medicate on the job, or use a high THC variety that could impair my judgement, but it would be nice to know that if my employer tested me, I wouldn't have to worry about losing my job just because I like to go to sleep at night pain free.

August 06 2014 at 2:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Claudio Teri

There is an interesting question arising from this article. I live in Texas and I go for a weekend in Colorado...http://drsocial.org/forums/topic/167/controlled-substance-agreements

April 15 2014 at 10:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I would fire anyone that uses drugs. They are a danger to other employees. One drug leads to other drugs. I have seen this to often. I thought that the goverment is trying to ban smoking. Another great goverment idea, What a bunch of jerks.

April 08 2014 at 10:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Tom's comment
David Rheins

There are a ton of legal cannabis jobs in Washington and Colorado. Read more here: http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2014/03/14/green-rush-job-fair-draws-crowds/

March 27 2014 at 7:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Marijuana Jobs

There is also the other side of the coin where it can get you hired... For instance there was just a recent job fair and we are seeing an increase need to post "marijuana industry" related jobs. http://www.jobsinmarijuana.com/

March 26 2014 at 1:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Highlighting the idiocy of our drug laws is admirable, however it's time for us to put the safety of our children FIRST and demand an end to the failed and counterproductive marijuana prohibition.

Marijuana is a far less-harmful and less-addictive alternative to alcohol and we could prevent a lot of the harm that alcohol causes by giving people the right to choose marijuana instead of alcohol. Letting the government arrest 700,000 people/year for the "crime" of wanting to use a far safer alternative to alcohol is just shameful on our part!

We need to STOP harming our children and legalize marijuana like beer and wine!!

March 25 2014 at 11:39 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Steve Morris

The whole charade of marijuana prohibition has created disrespect for the law.
As for myself, I will not allow the invasion of privacy of a drug test ever again.
I want the people I work with to be sober,alert, and well rested, but if they want to responsibly use cannabis for any purpose on their own free time, that is their private business.

The moment an accurate test of impairment is available, I will gladly demonstrate my workplace sobriety.
One thing is for sure though, I am not going to allow a discriminatory drug war prejudice to be held against me.
And if that means I am excluded from the workforce, I don't care.

I'm not taking a drug test.

March 25 2014 at 7:37 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Steve Morris's comment

Unfortunately, Steve, if you were involved in a vehicle accident where someone died, you wouldn't have the option of refusing a drug test. I don't like government intrusion either, but that is the law. In San Antonio, Tx. they have the no refusal laws, where you can be forced (they will physically restrain you) to submit to a blood test, just on the word of an officer who claims that you were driving erratic. Of course, the current practice of New Mexico is to go so far as to take the subject to a hospital for testing which may include a colonoscopy. If you were only referring to workplace testing, then excuse my response.

March 31 2014 at 4:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to GB's comment
Steve Morris

Yes GB, Anyone is subject to DUI testing, and we all want the roads to be safe. There is a lot of energy to develop a minimally invasive swab or diabetes like slight prick blood test. This technology is in it's infancy, but at least the legalization has made it obvious that excretion of metabolites isn't necessarily an indication of impairment.

That was always my problem with urine testing, impairment at that moment was assumed.
Like with alcohol, I want us all to drive sober. Our moms and kids use these roads. Thanks

April 02 2014 at 11:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down

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