The truth is that the morality of marijuana use cuts in many directions—and does not belong solely to wealthy baby boomers afraid to allow brave new facts to challenge old biases. And the truth in Colorado is that there will not be some grand rush to ingest pot because there cannot by law be such a grand rush. For every earnest veteran standing in line to buy marijuana there are 10 nurses, or accountants, or bus drivers, or other responsible, respectable members of society who cannot use lawful marijuana for fear of losing a job, or an apartment lease, or custody of a child, or some government benefit. This is what happens when a bold state initiative conflicts with stale federal law.
The continuing stigma surrounding marijuana use—not to mention the very real risks to their jobs—keeps many cannabis newcomers from stepping fully into the light.
For now anyway, a Colorado employee can get drunk as a skunk on a Saturday night and have no fear on Monday of losing her job to a drug test so long as she shows up sober and ready to work. And it means that the employee’s coworker cannot have even a puff of pot on that same Saturday night without fearing that a subsequent drug test will cost her a job, even if she also shows up sober and ready to work on the following Monday. That’s a patent inequality that is as easy to explain as it is difficult to justify: a “zero-tolerance” drug policy that employers conveniently apply to some lawful drugs but not to others
In Colorado, the ACLU has argued that employees should not be fired for evidence of past pot use, which is what the drug tests now show, but for evidence of current cannabis use or impairment, which the drug tests now do not necessarily show. Colorado lawmakers, and ultimately officials in the Obama administration, are going to have to address that dichotomy. Until they do, Colorado deserves credit for candor, at least, and for offering a solution to a problem to marijuana use that federal officials—and generations of judges and prosecutors—have failed to solve.