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Cannabis plants grow inside a cultivation facility near Lafayette on Dec. 13, 2018. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

A Colorado House committee voted down a bill that sought to stop employers from denying jobs to or firing workers for their off-the-clock cannabis use, either medical or recreational.

House Bill 1152 also sought to require employers to let their employees consume medical marijuana while on the job. The legislation included exceptions for workers whose jobs are in dangerous fields or require fine motor skills, such as positions involving the use of heavy machinery.

The bill was rejected on a 12-1 vote in the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee on Thursday afternoon even after the measure’s sponsor, Rep. Edie Hooton, a Boulder Democrat, offered an amendment to dramatically scale back the legislation before the vote was taken. 

The amendment, which was adopted, would have erased all of the bill’s provisions and instead convened a panel to study the issue and make recommendations to the legislature about how employers can accommodate medical marijuana users. But even that wasn’t enough for lawmakers on the committee, who were concerned about any move toward forcing employers to allow their employees to use marijuana on or off the job. 

Many in the business community are fiercely opposed to the measure and testified in opposition to it Wednesday. 

“I wasn’t surprised,” Hooton, who has brought similar legislation for several years, said of the outcome. “I got a lot of very, very valuable feedback about how we might be able to move forward in the future.” 

The question of whether the use of cannabis off the clock can disqualify a person for a job or lead to their firing has been swirling in Colorado since voters passed Amendment 64 in 2012, which legalized the sale and use of recreational cannabis. Most states that have lifted prohibitions on pot leave the question of how to handle employees’ marijuana use up to employers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures

Nevada and New Jersey are two exceptions. In New Jersey, employers can prohibit employees from using cannabis while on the job or from showing up to work impaired. But they are not allowed to penalize an employee solely because of their off-the-clock recreational cannabis use.

In 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court sided with Dish Network, which fired an employee, Brandon Coats, after he tested positive for tetrahydrocannabinol – or THC – in a random drug test. Coats had a medical marijuana card as a result of back spasms caused by his quadriplegia. Muscle spasms are one of the seven debilitating conditions for which medical marijuana can be recommended under Colorado law.

The closely watched case highlighted Colorado’s pot paradox: Marijuana is legal, but consuming it can still be grounds for termination. 

Amendment 64 included the following provision: “Nothing in this (ballot measure) is intended to require an employer to permit or accommodate the use, consumption, possession, transfer, delay, transportation, sale or growing of marijuana in the workplace to to affect the ability of employers to have policies restriction the use of marijuana by employees.”

Amendment 20, the 2000 ballot initiative allowing medical marijuana sales and use in Colorado, included a provision about how it does not “require any employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace.”

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....