Construction industry employers everywhere exhaled with relief when the Colorado Supreme Court ruled pot-smoking employees can be fired even if they live in a state where marijuana use is legal. It was a victory for safe workplaces.
Residents of 23 states and the District of Columbia can legally use marijuana to treat medical conditions. Colorado and Washington state permit recreational pot use by residents. However, the justices concluded that the right of these citizens to use marijuana in their free time does not override the right of employers to maintain a drug-free workplace. In other words, use cannabis at your own risk.
The key in the ruling is that marijuana use remains illegal under federal law. National statutes remain committed to constraining the use of illegal drugs or abuse of pharmaceutical products. The statutes are predicated on the fact that drug abuse impairs judgment, resulting in negative societal impacts. DUI laws have a similar foundation.
Construction industry employers don’t have to be teetotalers or fervent anti-drug campaigners to appreciate the court’s decision. They only have to watch a crane operator recklessly swing his boom, an errant dump truck driver brush his rumbling rig past a walking supervisor, or a dozer operator reverse his machine at excessive speed. Sober and grounded workers are required in such an intrinsically dangerous environment.
But can’t a person smoke a little pot or drain a six pack on his own time? Sure. Free country. But if your bloodstream shows traces of the drug, or if you report for work Monday morning hung over from binging with buddies, an employer retains the right to exercise his judgment and send you home again. Taking a chance on an identified drug user or alcohol abuser places everyone else in the workplace at risk.
The justices got it right: Safety of all trumps the right of an individual to indulge.