When a state passes a law making recreational use of marijuana legal, what does that mean for schools, businesses, and other entities located within that state? This very issue is being raised in several states, such as
Colorado, that have recently legalized
marijuana. To completely understand the
issues at hand, it’s important to realize that marijuana remains illegal under
federal law. Even if Colorado state law allows personal marijuana
use, federal law does not. To take that
a step further, some believe that businesses involved with federal contracts or
receiving federal grants, as well as educational institutions/universities
could lose their federal funding and research funds if marijuana is used by
those employees or other personnel.
After Colorado legalized marijuana last
Bruce Benson explained that "marijuana threatens to cost the university
nearly a billion dollars annually in federal revenue, money we can ill afford
to lose.” University
Another issue is whether employers will be able to terminate an employee who tests positive for marijuana in a state where it has been legalized. In some states, like
Alabama, an employer has the ability to
terminate an employee for almost any (non-discriminatory) reason. Some states, however, specifically forbid an
employee from being terminated for any private conduct that is legal. These laws are generally aimed at preventing
an employee from being fired for smoking or drinking while away from the office,
but with the legalization of marijuana, these employment laws may need to be
reexamined, especially given the conflict between an activity that is legal
under state law but remains illegal under federal law. Should an employer to be required to retain
an employee who (now legally) smokes marijuana after work?
With every election bringing another handful of states deciding on whether to keep marijuana use criminalized, it will be interesting to see how states move to protect employers and universities, in particular those relying on federal funding, that wish to prohibit marijuana use.