Marijuana and Employment in Colorado

03/25/2020

We are living in a beautiful time to watch history unfold before our eyes. It may seem like a slow process, but we are witnessing the end of cannabis prohibition. This prohibition has lasted 83 years starting with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. It’s easy to think about the end of prohibition as something that is fixed with the passing of a law, but in reality it is the accumulation of many laws and amendments that shape drastic change. Though marijuana remains illegal under federal law, 33 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico all have legalized cannabis for either medical or recreational purposes. State governed cannabis laws have certainly helped the economy, but it leaves an uncomfortable amount of grey area in regards to what is considered lawful surrounding cannabis and its use. The pressure of this gray area is particularly heavy in the area of employment in states like Colorado that have legalized cannabis for recreational consumption. 

“The Green Rush” and the land of opportunity

When recreational legalization passed in 2014, the naysayers said that there would be more crime, more drugs, and it would hurt the economy. They couldn’t have been more incorrect. According to Colorado.gov, the legal cannabis industry generated $1,747,990,628 of marijuana sales in 2019 alone and a total of $7,787,702,303 in total marijuana sales since 2014. The state has generated $1,234,921,993 in marijuana tax revenue since its legalization. Naturally, this booming industry has created thousands of cannabis related jobs, but it has also driven employment in areas such as education and regional transportation through the distribution of the tax revenue. The Colorado unemployment rate has dropped 3.5% from 6% to 2.5% since 2014. Colorado is proof that regulated cannabis can be a truly healthy and beautiful way to enhance a state’s culture and economy.  

The booming Colorado economy has led to an influx of people moving to Colorado to be part of legalized cannabis, but many find it difficult to break into the industry. In order to be employed by a regulated cannabis business of any kind, a person must have a badge with the Marijuana Enforcement Division. The requirements to obtain a badge can be difficult for some to meet. An applicant must be an official Colorado resident with a clean record and be in good standing with the IRS. Once an applicant has a badge, they can start working in the industry. On paper, the idea of working in the lush Colorado cannabis industry seems promising, the competition is steep and it can be hard to get a job without experience. Despite a few sizable hurdles, cannabis jobs can be some of the most rewarding and educational jobs out there with opportunity to help those who benefit from cannabis consumption. 

Marijuana and employment outside of the cannabis industry

Logic would tell us that the recreational legalization of cannabis would in turn mean that employers would view its use by employees similarly to that of alcohol. It is unlawful to fire a person for partaking in illegal activities while “off duty”. Since cannabis is legalized, it would make sense that it would fall under the umbrella of a lawful and off duty activity, but sadly that isn’t the case. Since cannabis remains federally illegal as a schedule one narcotic, it is actually completely legal for employers to fire people for consuming cannabis off the clock despite its statewide legalization. State’s rights have been beneficial for the cannabis industry in general, but the conflict of federal vs state law is heavy in terms of employee’s rights. This has been devastating for many Coloradians who would otherwise benefit from cannabis use, but aren’t willing to put their livelihoods on the line. Fortunately, House Bill 1089 plans to change the outdated laws surrounding cannabis and employment in Colorado. The bill introduced by Jovan Melton would prohibit employers from terminating employees for partaking in legal activities while “off duty”, even if those activities are illegal on the federal level. This is the first time since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana that a bill of this kind has been introduced. The bill could pave the way for other states with medical and recreational cannabis laws to protect employees who consume cannabis off the clock. 

Cannabis laws are getting there

It’s only a matter of time before cannabis laws catch up with the needs of modern society. The momentum of the cannabis movement has led to more people speaking out about it without fear. With each state that legalizes its use for medical and recreational purposes, knowledge and education replace ignorance. The process may seem slow and it may be painful at times, but that is the way that history is made. It is a beautiful time for the cannabis industry in terms of the community that it builds and opportunity that it creates. 

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