Smoked Out: How Recent Changes to State Marijuana Laws Affect Travel Nurses

Clinical Corner

Drug Test
How do new state marijuana laws affect your travel nurse employment?

By Lalah Landers, BSN, RN Clinical Nurse Manager

With the legalization of recreational cannabis/marijuana in Washington State and Colorado, we’ve been getting more questions recently regarding the use of recreational marijuana and how it affects mandatory employer drug testing and your Travel Nursing job prospects. There is a common misconception that people can smoke marijuana anywhere in Colorado and Washington State without consequence.

Although it is now legal to recreationally use cannabis, commonly known as marijuana, in Washington and Colorado, a recent Denver Post article cautions that employers can still fire or elect not to hire employees who indulge in legal use.

According to the Post, “State law gives employers full authority to impose any drug prohibitions they wish, despite it being legal in Colorado for adults to possess and consume marijuana.

Colorado law prohibits employers from terminating employees for engaging in lawful activities (such as marijuana possession and use) off of the employer’s premises during nonworking hours. However, the Colorado law expressly states that cannabis legalization does not affect the right of employers to maintain a drug-free workplace. [1]

The Washington law is silent on this matter. But the state Supreme Court of Washington issued a decision in 2011 upholding the right of an employer to terminate an employee who violated the company’s drug policy through medical marijuana use that was lawful under state statute. [2] This has also been backed up by other states, such as California, Montana, and Oregon, with medical cannabis laws that allow for legal medical use.

It’s also important for employees to note that THC, the primary active element in marijuana, can linger in a user’s system for weeks or months after ingestion. This means that partaking of marijuana in a legal fashion may still show up in the results of an on-duty drug test, which could have consequences regarding your employability. The rights of employers to terminate employment or to not hire on the grounds of marijuana usage are not likely to undergo any change unless and until there is a federal law that legalizes cannabis use in all 50 states — much the same way that alcohol is currently controlled in employment situations.

We ask that Medical Solutions Travelers remember that we do maintain a drug-free workplace policy, and for their actions to remain consistent with this policy.


[1] Amendment 64 to Article 18 of the state constitution. Amendment 64 includes the following sentence: “Nothing in this section is intended to require an employer to permit or accommodate the use, consumption, possession, transfer, display, transportation, sale, or growing of marijuana in the workplace, or to affect the ability of employers to have policies restricting the use of marijuana by employees.”

[2] See Roe v. TeleTech Customer Care Mgmt. LLC, 257 P.3d 586 (Wash. 2011).

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