(Denver Post file)

Editorial: Why some Colo. employers still need no-pot policies

The Colorado Supreme Court needs to send a clear message when it rules on whether employers can enforce a zero-tolerance policy on marijuana — even regarding off-the-job use under the medical marijuana amendment.

That amendment says, “Nothing in this section shall require any employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace.”

By any reasonable inference, that means an employer can impose, as a condition of hiring, a mandate of no marijuana use. Otherwise it would be virtually impossible for employers to ensure that workers are not under the influence or suffering the residual effects of much earlier consumption.

Remember, most medical marijuana patients say they need the drug for serious chronic pain. Presumably that pain and the need for relief don’t magically vanish when someone shows up for work.

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It’s not that we’re indifferent to the plight of Brandon Coats, a medical marijuana patient fired by Dish Network after a positive drug test whose lawsuit is before the high court. Nor do we believe employers should be in the business, generally, of trying to regulate the off-duty behavior of their workers. Quite the contrary, in fact.

But employers clearly do have a reasonable basis for adopting zero-tolerance policies for some categories of workers, and a ruling that went Coats’ way would essentially torpedo that possibility.

In a brief urging the court to uphold an appeals court ruling in favor of Dish, Attorney General John Suthers points out that the state of Colorado alone employs thousands of workers who “are responsible for ensuring the safety and security of the general public,” from correctional workers to state troopers, to snowplow operators. And for the most part, they are subject to federal rules requiring zero-tolerance policies.

“Employers should not be forced to defend compliance with federal law … simply to terminate someone like a safety-sensitive transportation worker for using marijuana and potentially risking the safety of others,” the brief says.

Indeed. Workers who sign on with an employer know what the drug policy is — and they should abide by it.

This story was first published on DenverPost.com