Cannabis Warning: Users Can Still Lose Their Jobs In States Where It Is Legalized

Last Updated on May 24, 2023

Across 37 states, it is now legal to use marijuana for medical purposes or recreationally. However, in some fields, employers will still conduct random drugs testing to ensure you are fit to work. If you are found to be using cannabis in the workplace or before you arrive at work, you may still suffer disciplinary action, despite the drug being legal in your state.

Marijuana for Medical Use

Typically, across the United States, if you have a medical certificate to show that cannabis is required for a health condition, then your employer will allow this and excuse a positive drugs test. 14 states currently ban employers from discriminating against people who use cannabis medically, meaning that they cannot refuse to employ someone for this reason or fire them for failing a drugs test.

However, the Colorado bill in 2012 was created initially to support employers who wished to ban marijuana users from entering the workplace even if it was due to medical conditions. This was quickly opposed by the Colorado Mining Association in favor of supporting people with medical conditions to continue working by using medically prescribed cannabis. But, due to health and safety regulations, this may mean that certain job roles are inaccessible.

Marijuana and Health & Safety

For marijuana use recreationally, your employer is within their right to test for usage randomly, especially if your role includes the operation of machinery, firearms or you work in the medical profession or around food.

If random drugs testing is to be expected, you will normally be made aware of this prior to accepting the position.

While cannabis legalization advocates aim to contest drug testing, stating that tests don’t measure whether the employee is high at the time, and only that they have consumed the drug within the previous few weeks, this is still overruled in favor of preserving the safety of that employee and those around them during the working day, and is still federal law over some industries. Currently, employers are still held liable for injury at work, even if a drug test comes back positive in certain situations. For this reason, it’s in the interest of employers to let their staff go if they are known to be regular users.

What Are Tests Looking For?

For employers who choose to test for marijuana, especially those that are concerned for the safety of their employees, they need to consider what they want to measure by testing.

Most drug tests only show evidence of the drug in the person’s system, meaning that they could have taken it over a week prior to attending work, though it would still show up as positive. This may seem an unfair assessment, if the employee hasn’t taken cannabis immediately before or during work. The tests could also indicate for people using hemp products, which do not cause the same side effects and are therefore safe to use at work.

Which Industries Test?

Certain industries are still bound by testing for marijuana usage and, despite the drug being legal in many states, are still able to let their employees go, should they find that they use marijuana either recreationally or medically. This is to preserve the safety of the employees and those around them.

Specific sectors included within this exception are:


  • Building firms and factories which require the use of heavy machinery.
  • Electric or gas companies to prevent injury.
  • Medical professions – in order to maintain the safety of patients.
  • Pilots and flight crews.
  • Industries which require firearms use and training, such as the armed forces.


The Senior Science Consultant, Barry Sample, at global laboratory company Quest Diagnostics, states that most large companies which operate globally still use regular drugs testing when taking on employees. Of these, 75% are conducted as part of the application process, meaning that applicants know that they are likely to be tested prior to accepting their role. For global companies, this is often to support a one-size-fits-all method, where other countries haven’t yet legalized marijuana.

However, data shows that testing is becoming less common and has decreased by 1% per year since 2015.

Nationwide, around 4.4% of employees who were tested in 2020 failed their drugs test at work. The states that legalized cannabis prior to 2020 showed a higher than average 4.8%, showing that people potentially feel safer to consume the drug in states where it is legal.

Employees should remember though, that in certain industries, despite the state legalization, organizations reserve the right to conduct regular drugs tests and are still able to fire employees if they feel that the drug use is a health and safety risk.

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