2020 Leg Session, Featured, Gold Dome, Politics, Sherrie Peif

Bill would ignore federal law; prohibit employers from firing employees for off-duty use of marijuana

DENVER — A bill being proposed in the legislature could force Colorado Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to retain deputies and police officers whose off duty activates may violate their sworn duties.

House Bill 20-1089, Employee Protection Lawful Off-duty Activities, would prohibit Colorado employers from terminating an employee for “lawful off-duty activities that are lawful under state law even if those activities are not lawful under federal law.”

Jovan Melton

The bill was introduced on January 10 and has only one sponsor, Representative Jovan Melton, a Denver Democrat. It is scheduled for a 1:30 p.m. hearing before the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee on Feb. 5 in the Legislative Sevices Building, room A.

Currently, because marijuana is still a federal crime, Colorado employers have the right to prohibit employees from engaging in consuming marijuana and the right to test for its use.

HB 1089 would change that.

“Although section 16 (1)(b) of Article XVIII of the Colorado constitution requires that marijuana be regulated in a manner similar to alcohol, employers are currently allowed to terminate employees for off-duty consumption of marijuana;” the bill reads in part. “And by clarifying that the prohibition on termination for lawful off-duty activities … the statute will be brought into harmony with the requirements of the Colorado constitution.”

The bill is troublesome for Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams for two reasons, he said.

First, Reams said, are the effects marijuana poses on the body.

“You don’t know how fast it leaves the system,” Reams said. “It’s proven to have long-term effects on decision making. And in an environment where we expect people to make quick decisions, those two things don’t make much sense.”

Steve Reams

Second, law enforcement officers swear to uphold the law, including federal laws. If they violate any other federal law, they face termination. This bill “flies in the face” of that, Reams said.

A section in existing law exempts employees who “have a bona fide occupational requirement or is reasonably and rationally related to the employment activities and responsibilities of a particular employee or a particular group of employees, rather than to all employees of the employer; or is necessary to avoid a conflict of interest with any responsibilities to the employer or the appearance of such a conflict of interest.”

However, it is up for interpretation, and Reams said he’s hoping they amend the bill to specifically exempt law enforcement. As proposed, Reams believes officers might be allowed to partake in off-duty consumption of marijuana under the same statutes that allow alcohol consumption, without fear of losing their jobs.

“I doubt they will,” Reams said. “The intent of the bill is to completely do away with any concerns related to marijuana.”

The bottom line, he said, is it is still a federal offense and law enforcement officers are expected to be held to a higher standard — on and off duty.

“That puts me in a predicament,” Reams said, adding everyday officers lose their jobs for violating federal laws that many in the private sector wouldn’t even get reprimanded for. “Essentially what they’re saying is our law enforcement officers can violate federal law.”

Reams said they don’t get to pick and choose what federal laws to follow and which to violate.

“It flies in the face of what the legislature did last year, specifically with the Red Flag law by saying they were abiding by federal law. Now they want to pass a bill that undermines federal law. They just want it both ways. It’s unnecessary and undermines the mission of law enforcement,” Reams said.






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