Most cannabis-legal states don’t shield cannabis-consuming employees from anti-marijuana regulations at their office. But a recent case involving a substitute teacher in a Colorado charter school begs the question: How can some educational institutions fire employees for legally using cannabis, while still taking cannabis industry tax revenue from the state?
The Pot Scientist’s Origin Story
“You think the drug war is over here?” asks Carter Baird, in reference to Colorado. “It’s not.”
Baird is a scientist. He has worked as carbon dioxide extractor, product-infuser, quality control engineer and lab technician in Colorado’s legal cannabis industry for the past five years.
In college, he double-majored in biochemistry and theater. That training also serves him well in his side gig. Several years ago Baird created the fictional persona of “The Pot Scientist,” which he began as part of his “The Pot Scientist Reports” YouTube Channel.
In his videos, Baird sports a lab coat and waxed moustache while wandering around Denver’s 16th Street Mall. He offers to answer questions about cannabis and talks about a wide range of cannabis-related topics, in the tradition of Bill Nye and other on-air science communicators.
His channel initially gained notice in the Colorado cannabis industry for its humorous and fact-filled takes on a wide range of issues. But the channel never took off, so he went back to work as a lab technician.
Not Aligned with School Ethics
In between lab jobs, Baird also found employment as a substitute teacher at his high school alma mater, Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette, Colorado.
That, unfortunately, did not end well.
Baird was recently called into a meeting with the school’s head of human resources director, and several other officials.
Baird added that school officials told him his YouTube channel did not “align with their ethics policy.”
Cannabis Firing: Legal in Colorado
Carter said he didn’t hide the nature of his previous employment when applying for his school job. He never brought up cannabis in any of his classes, and does not condone the recreational use of cannabis by any underage person.
Still, he does understand the school’s legal right to dismiss him and pointed to the case of Brandon Coats.
In 2015 Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled that the Dish Network had the right to fire Coats, a quadriplegic man who used state-licensed medicinal cannabis to control painful muscle spasms caused by his paralysis, after Coats failed the company’s cannabis drug test.
As someone who uses medical cannabis for his multiple sclerosis, Baird said he gets that Colorado companies can fire employees who use cannabis for whatever reason, even if they consume cannabis “off the clock.”
School Policy and Tax Dollars
What Baird is peeved about is Peak to Peak’s apparently contradictory stance regarding cannabis. The school receives tens of thousands of dollars yearly from Colorado’s State Education Fund.
As the Colorado Department of Education’s website notes, a percentage of Colorado’s marijuana excise tax “provides an appropriation for Charter School and Institute Charter School Capital Construction,” to pay for school construction, renovation, maintenance and other issues.
“I heard that as a rumor, initially, that new school construction [at Peak to Peak] was funded by pot tax money,” said Baird. “Turns out it’s on the public record. It seems disingenuous to fire me over ethics when they take the money that’s a result of cannabis consumption.”
“The school is partially funded by capital construction dollars which are accumulated and distributed by the state. We are grateful to the taxpayers for the additional funding,” she said.
A New Mission for The Pot Scientist
On Baird’s YouTube channel, some of his former students have commented and criticized the way he was treated by their school.
“The only thing I really heard about you was that you had a YouTube channel called the pot scientist which I thought was awesome,” said one Peak to Peak senior in the channel’s comment section. (The comment has since been taken down.)
“As a sub you did a better job than some of the regulars we have here and I think it’s unfair for you to be fired over your freedom to use YouTube as a platform to talk about the science behind cannabis (which could be really helpful in having healthy discussions about marijuana use). You’re an adult in a state where marijuana is legal, but we gotta pretend you’re not and it’s not?????”
Baird said one of his YouTube commenters also reported that one student at their school was dabbing marijuana before class, and that there needs to be a “kind of practical knowledge that kids need to understand, that they’re hurting their own education by dabbing right before class.”
Among other student comments, hashtag campaigns have also been started—#Justiceforthepotscientist and #Walkoutforthepotscientist—though there are no apparent actions being planned by the students.
The Pot Scientist, Revived
For his part, Baird said he doesn’t want his substitute teaching job back, and he’s not in contact with the students or the school. But in one of his latest videos he says he supports students “flexing what power they have.”
He also believes his firing has given The Pot Scientist a new mission. While the original concept was about educating adults about cannabis, he now feels he can help fill a void in cannabis education among young adults and high school students.
“The channel has been up for years now and it was kind of on its last legs,” he said. “I wasn’t inspired by the content; I didn’t feel I had a specific audience in any way. I was about to cancel it—and now I feel there’s a need for this knowledge.”