Sure, people are getting jailed and paying fines for using and getting caught in possession of cannabis. That’s not really new. But a widow being punished for her dead husband’s cannabis use? Is it rightful?
That was the case of Erika Lee, whose husband, Adam, was killed in an accident at work and who was denied half of the compensation owed to her just because he was a pot user. A legal pot user, at that, considering that Colorado has legalized the use of cannabis, both for medical and recreational purposes.
Adam was a state-employed electrician in Colorado. He was repairing the Magic Carpet ski escalator at the Loveland Ski Area in December 2017 when the ski escalator started to malfunction and he was crushed to death underneath it.
According to Erika, her husband got caught on the Magic Carpet ski escalator and when it stopped, they “just started it again and again — seven times total.”
However, Pinnacol Assurance (a quasi-state workers’ compensation agency) said that they will only give Adam’s wife and kids 50 percent of the compensation owed to them since the toxicology report showed that there were high levels of THC in his system at the time of his death. THC or tetrahydrocannabinol is a psychoactive chemical component found in cannabis and it is what gives users the high.
Testing can detect THC in one’s system several days and even weeks after it was consumed. However, current science is still unable determine whether Adam was indeed impaired or intoxicated at the time he got into the accident and died.
According to Civilized’s report, there are several issues with Pinnacol’s decision. First is that marijuana was already legal in the state when Adam died on the job. This means that the state is punishing Adam for taking part in an activity that is already considered a legal one. Second, there is no way to tell when Adam used cannabis before the accident happened. This is because THC can stay in your body for days or even for weeks after cannabis use. So there is no way for the state to know for certain whether Adam had used pot shortly before the accident took place.
However, according to Colorado law, state workers’ compensation companies can cut benefits by half if tests return positive for any controlled substance, including cannabis.
Erika said that she is frustrated with the system, which is saying that because her husband smoked a legal substance, they are going to take away benefits for her and her kids.
She admits that she is scared and that she has no idea how her family is going to make it. They don’t know if they will get any money, so right now, they are just looking at how to survive.
Erika said she will appeal the state’s decision to cut the death benefit she will collect. A hearing is scheduled before an administrative law judge in the coming months.
Brian Vicente, an attorney who campaigned for marijuana legalization in Colorado in 2012, described the Lee family’s case as “heartbreaking.” He believes, however, that this should be a message to cannabis users in the state.
Vicente said that voters spoke loudly about wanting pot legalized for adults, but there are still some parts of Colorado’s revised statutes that penalize individuals who are using the substance.
When asked how following the law appears to have a disconnect between another state law that legalized cannabis in Colorado, John Sandberg, who is an administrative law judge with the state’s Department of Labor, said that the issue “is a good social issue.” He said that it is one that probably has to be brought to the general assembly in terms of how it affects workers.