Colorado Woman Denied Late Husband’s Benefits Because He Had Weed in His System

Usually, state laws run into conflicts with the federal ban on cannabis. This time, however, Colorado’s laws are in conflict with themselves.
Colorado Woman Denied Late Husband's Benefits Because He Had Weed in His System
Antonio Guillem/ Shutterstock

In weed-legal Colorado, the family of a worker who died on the job will get just half of his workers’ compensation benefits because a postmortem toxicology report found THC in the man’s blood.

Workers Who Smoke Weed Legally Can Still Have Benefits Denied

In December 2017, Adam Lee died after being crushed by a ski escalator while working at the Loveland Ski Area.

Lee worked as an electrician at the ski park, and he was trying to fix a malfunctioning ski escalator called the “Magic Carpet” when he died.

In an exclusive interview with Contact7, Lee’s wife Erika described how Adam got caught in the belt of the escalator. Unaware of what was happening when the escalator stalled, other workers kept starting it again, crushing Adam seven more times.

After his death, a toxicology report turned up what reports call a “high level” of marijuana. Lee had been a cannabis consumer; something that’s totally legal in Colorado.

Crucially, however, the toxicology report is unable to determine whether Lee was under the influence of cannabis when he died.

Still, using a state law, Lee’s employer cut his worker’s comp benefits by 50 percent. Now Erika and her family will have to make due with $800 less each month.

Lawyers who helped campaign to legalize adult-use cannabis in 2012 quickly spoke out against the situation. “This is heartbreaking, and I think this should be a message to marijuana consumers in Colorado,” said attorney Brian Vicente.

And it is a powerful message for the thousands of lawful cannabis users in the state of Colorado. Many probably have no idea about the risk they are taking.

Colorado Cannabis Laws Contradict Other State Laws

In the legal realm of state cannabis programs, usually states face problems due to conflicts with federal laws.

The ongoing federal prohibition on marijuana, for example, has direct consequences on the legal, regulated cannabis industry. The ever-potential threat of a federal crackdown hinders businesses’ ability to use banks, take out insurance and attract investors.

But in this story, the conflict isn’t between federal and state law. It’s between two laws in the same state.

It’s entirely legal for adults 21 and over to use and possess (and grow and sell) cannabis in Colorado.

But another state law gives state workers’ comp companies the right to cut benefits in half if toxicology tests come back positive for marijuana or any other illegal drug.

In short, it’s legal for employers to reduce benefits for weed users, while it’s also legal to consume weed.

And it doesn’t matter whether or not a person was under the influence of cannabis at the time of an incident. Indeed, it’s still very hard to determine with blood and urine tests alone whether someone is high on the job or not.

In this case, that’s not what counts. All that matters is that THC was present in Adam Lee’s system at the time of his death.

Erika Lee is appealing the workers’ comp decision, and a preliminary hearing will take place next month.

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