Getting high at work
(Last Updated On: April 17, 2015)

Showing up to work high? You’re not alone.

In case you are living under a rock, cannabis legalization is taking center stage in different parts of the world. Lawmakers are reviewing the possibility of reevaluating the use of cannabis.Colorado’s cannabis legalizationcreated a ripple effect to 20 plus states in the US alone. Now, more and more people are heading to states offering access to medical cannabis. The legislative changes did not only change the way we view cannabis as a medicine. This sparked a crucial debate especially for employers.

Can you fire an employee if he tests positive in cannabis? Given the 23 states that legalized cannabis, not to mention Colorado and Washington are now on the verge of having legalizing recreational marijuana, how can this affect employer policies?

Cannabis Legalization and Employment

State laws differ, however, in order to protect your rights, you need to know the facts. These are some imperative information that you should know especially if you are casually using cannabis, either for recreational or medicinal purpose.

According to the latest statistics, there are 13.1 million employees who are considered drug addicts. Keep in mind that though cannabis is considered legal in some states, it is still considered schedule 1 substance. This simply means that it falls under the same category as heroine and other hard drugs. Being a schedule 1 drug classification makes cannabis a tricky subject. If you are caught in a state with no cannabis law, you can suffer a lot even imprisonment.

Also, being a schedule 1 drug, and considered illegal federally, this means that workplaces that receive funding federally are strict about this subject matter. For instance, if you are working for the Department of Transportation, you are subject to the Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988.

But of course, there are some perks to the legalization. If you are living in an area with some sort of medical cannabis law, all you need to have is a prescription from a physician. But of course, there’s a limit to this. For most states, even those states that legalized cannabis, employers have the right to reprimand employees who are already impaired to perform their duties due to cannabis use.

Should There be A New Employer’s Policy?

It is difficult to have a generic legal remedy for the company policies given that state laws differ from one area to the next. In fact, first step in order to have the right policy is to talk to a lawyer. The lawyer will have to check with the existing drug testing policies of your company, in order to ensure that everything is compliant to both federal and state laws. Drug policy reviews should include details regarding impairments, termination, and safety especially if they are using cannabis.

Since there are changes in the drug policies, you need to communicate personally with your employees. Try to clarify your company’s stand with marijuana. You can state the importance of a drug free work environment and clarify the changes your business is adapting to with regards to the cannabis law. This is a good step in order to set up expectations with your employees.

Aside from the employees, there should be an additional training with your HR and managers. They should be aware how to handle drug tests, and positive marijuana results. It is also imperative to train your HR and managers to know the proper handling of an employee who is prescribed with medical cannabis.

Grey area in the medical cannabis laws

There are grey areas despite legalizing marijuana. Since it is considered a schedule 1 drug, companies can get away prohibiting the substance despite laws that exist in the state. According to Seattle’s Marijuana Business Association CEO David Rheins, businesses at the end of the day call the shots. If you are not allowed to use marijuana under your contract, then you can get fired if you opted to use it.

Though companies have this option, this is an issue that can be thrown into legal waters. For instance, Michael Boyer is among the first in Washington to purchase recreational cannabis. This was shown in the media, and was seen by his employers at TrueBlue Labor Ready. His employer required him to undergo a drug test.

He refused to take the taste since positive marijuana test would mean dismissal. This case generated enough attention that TrueBlue Labor Ready reversed their decision. They mentioned that Michael Boyer purchased recreational cannabis during his free time.

Aside from Michael Boyer, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes was seen purchasing recreational cannabis. Though considered as a main protagonist in Washington’s cannabis legalization movement, he brought cannabis in his office, though unopened remained to be in violation of Seattle’s drug free workplace policy.

If you are thinking that Colorado offers better alternatives, you are mistaken. Amendment 20 of the Colorado Constitution states that employers are not required to accommodate even employees who are using cannabis for medical purpose in the workplace. On the other hand, there is no mention whether or not employees can be fired when they use medical marijuana at home.

It is common to ask if you can sue the company if they try to fire you in Colorado given the fact that medical cannabis is legal in the state. The perfect example for this is the case of Brendon Coats, an employee of Dish Network, who is a quadriplegic due to a spinal injury. Using cannabis for medicinal purpose, he was terminated when he failed a drug test.

Coats decided to take the matters to court. He sued Dish Network on the grounds that it is legal in Colorado. Unfortunately, judges ruled in favor of Dish Network saying that the company did not violate anything. Coats appealed the case to the Supreme Court. If he ended up winning the case, this could make a huge noise how companies conduct drug tests.

What You Should Be Aware Of

You have to make sure that you know the law in the area where you live in. Let’s take Washington as an example. If you are in Washington, you are allowed to use both medical and recreational cannabis. There are limitations though to how the cannabis legalization works. In Washington, you will only be subscribed cannabis for specific medical conditions such as HIV, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, renal failure, Crohn’s Disease, and Hepatitis C.

Also, in case you are going to use recreational marijuana, you are only allowed to have a certain volume depending on the form of cannabis. Also, you shouldn’t use it in public places and federal land. As for work places, it depends on the decision of the employer if they want to have a drug free work policy. In fact, even medical cannabis will not be tolerated with a drug free workplace policy.

How to View Cannabis

It is important to know how the law views recreational and medical marijuana. As rule of thumb, marijuana is viewed in the same light as alcohol. For states that legalized cannabis, you should use it with caution. For some employers, they view the use of marijuana the same as drinking alcohol on a Friday night. You simply return to work sober and fit to work by Monday.

Lastly, if you are going to be tested for cannabis, blood tests are the more accurate option that some employers go for. Here, THC and other active indicators are traced. With blood testing, traces of cannabinoids can be seen up to 28 days. For Urine, hair or sweat, it is impossible to trace the “under the influence limit” for cannabis. Therefore, it is hard to prove when you used cannabis.


What we learned so far is that there is confusion from the employees and even the employers when it comes to the legalization of cannabis. In summary, employers and employees should be knowledgeable of the existing marijuana laws in their area. Both parties should never be caught off-guard. It is imperative to re-evaluate policies on the part of the employer, in order to make sure that everything is aligned with both federal and state laws. In addition to reviewing the policies, circumstances when to call for drug testing should be re-evaluated by the employers. This should also include the pre-employment testing that affect one’s employment. And lastly, it is a must that employers educate their employees of the existing drug policies in the workplace, as well as the existing laws in the state.

Written by Donald Evans