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Colorado legislative committee kills employee marijuana use protection bill

Michael McGrady | The Center Square

The House Business Affairs and Labor Committee in Colorado's General Assembly voted to kill a bill that would protect employees from punishment from their employers for smoking marijuana in their personal time.

The committee voted unanimously, 10 to 0, to kill House Bill 1089 on Wednesday. Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, proposed HB 1089 as a means to codify the legal rights of workers that are supposed to defend against a phenomenon called lifestyle discrimination.  

Melton built his bill out of a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that questioned the concept. The high court ruled that employers can fire employees for smoking marijuana, both recreational and medicinal, if the company has grounds to do so.

The justices of the court ruled in favor of an employer because it was the collective belief of the magistrates that the state’s "Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute" defines the term “lawful” a person who engages in legal behavior in the eyes of state and federal statute.

Since marijuana is still considered an illegal narcotic at the federal level, the employer can order action against an employee who uses marijuana. Melton's bill would've remedied this situation by making the use of recreational and medicinal marijuana a lawful off-duty activity.  

"We may have to put some more guardrails and definitions,” Melton told The Denver Post in January. “I’m more than willing to listen to the business community and see how maybe we can tighten language up if necessary.”

Industry groups overwhelmingly lobbied against HB 1089, pushing testimony during the initial committee markup session to three hours. One of the criticisms from the bill's opponents focused on the lack of accuracy current drug tests have. 

"The bill, I think, is much broader than that, than trying to narrow in on that conversation about how we make sure that people don’t lose their jobs for taking something they need to make it through the day," Rep. Shannon Bird, D-Westminster, said during the hearing.