Employers can still fire employees for marijuana use

DENVER — The New Year brings with it legal recreational marijuana in Colorado.

Starting at 8 a.m. Wednesday, if you’re 21 or older, you can buy up to an ounce of pot at a licensed store, as long as you have a Colorado ID.

You need to know your employer’s drug policies, or you could be out of a job—and there’s little you can do about it.

Geotech Environmental Equipment makes equipment to test ground water pollution.  They also test their employees for drugs.  It’s spelled out in black and white in their employee handbook.

“We’re working with a lot of heavy machinery and equipment. And it’s something where we need that policy to assure people are alert and create a safe environment for themselves and those around them,” says Geotech’s president and CEO Jeff Popiel.

The company also competes for federal government contracts, which requires it meet federal standards—which still considers marijuana an illegal substance.

“As long as state and federal laws are out of alignment, we choose to follow the federal laws to be more conservative with how to interpret them,” says Popiel.

“Right now, the employer has all the cards,” says attorney Curtis Graves with Mountain State Employers Council.

He says Amendment 64 protects pot smokers from criminal prosecution—but it won’t protect their jobs.

“Many people think now that it’s legal under state law, if they want to use it in their spare time, it’s their choice and their employer has no recourse. That would be incorrect,” says Graves.

He says employers can take action for any amount of THC in an employee’s system—even if they’re not impaired.

“They might have smoked it the night before, might have been two weeks before, it’s still showing up on the test. But the law would permit the employer to take whatever employment action they deem prudent, up to and including termination,” says Graves.

Marijuana can stay in someone’s system for up to 30 days.

For Geotech, zero tolerance just makes it more simple and safer to manage.

“If someone chose to smoke pot, it’s not illegal for them to do that. It just means they’re not employable here. I have no problem with them. I just don’t have a job for them,” says Popiel.

Mountain States Employers Council gives legal advice to more than 3,000 companies.

It says most of them are not freaked out about the change because they went through all those questions when medical marijuana first became legal several years ago.