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As popularity for medical cannabis in Colorado grows, so do the opinions of users of the drug that their rights grow as well. This, however, is not the case as Colorado courts recently made clear. Although the state of Colorado has voted to make marijuana legal for medical use, it points out that this means only a very limited quantity and possession of the drug is still considered illegal under federal and some state drug laws.
The amendment to state law is very clear that marijuana is still considered a controlled substance and therefore still falls under state and federal drug laws, meaning that one can still be prosecuted. However, the amendment provides Colorado state law enforcement officers with guidance not to prosecute if use falls within the amendment’s limitations.
Further, the Colorado courts pointed out that as a controlled substance, marijuana cannot be prescribed but rather only recommended as a possible alternative for alleviating chronic medical symptoms. Since the drug cannot be prescribed, this also means that should a person be terminated at their place of employment for testing positive to marijuana, that individual will not be able to claim unemployment, since the state’s unemployment statutes only apply to those individuals who used prescribed drugs.
Two recent cases in the Colorado Court of Appeals dealt with the issue of medical marijuana in the workplace and the courts were very clear as to the definitive language surrounding medical marijuana and an employer’s rights.
In the first case, Beinor v. ICAO, the employer clearly had a zero-tolerance substance abuse policy prohibiting the use of any illegal drugs. When the plaintiff tested positive for marijuana, the plaintiff was immediately terminated. When the plaintiff filed for unemployment, the employer disputed the claim, stating that the plaintiff violated their drug abuse policy. The plaintiff claimed the drug was for medical use, but the courts ruled in favor of the company, stating that marijuana is still an illegal drug and the plaintiff clearly violated the company’s policy.
The second case, People v. Watkins, stated that an individual should be able to use medical marijuana while on probation. The court, however, rejected this argument, showing that the amendment does not cover the “right” to use marijuana for medical reasons or otherwise, but rather provides lenience in cases of potential prosecution for those using the recommended drug for medical purposes. It also remains illegal for anyone on probation to use a controlled substance and those who choose to violate this rule can have their probation revoked.
As the courts strive to make the language of this amendment more clear, it is hoped that individuals will begin to understand once and for all that using medical marijuana when and where they please is not a constitutional right in the state of Colorado but that they are simply afforded limited immunity from law officials should the question of prosecution arise when confronted with medical marijuana use.