Buyer beware: You can still be fired for legal marijuana


In July 2015, recreational marijuana use will become legal in Oregon for adults 21 and over. But there’s a hitch: Adults can use marijuana, but employers can still fire them for doing it.

MarijuanaLeafBallot Measure 91, which legalized recreational marijuana, specifically left untouched private prohibition by employers or landlords. Nonunion employers can impose whatever workplace drug policies they want. Union employers must negotiate drug policies with the union. But under federal law, employers in transportation and employers that have federal contracts have no choice: They must have workplace drug policies. And under that federal regulatory regime, marijuana continues to be one of five tested-for drugs (along with amphetamines, cocaine, opiates and PCP).

Paul Loney, a Portland attorney who specializes in marijuana law, says workers need to know their employer’s policy. Some conduct random drug tests, while others test only after an accident or on suspicion of intoxication. And when a test comes back positive, some discipline or fire an employee, while others send them for counseling or treatment.

In hazardous working environments, it’s reasonable for employers to want workers to be sober. The problem is, the standard-issue drug tests don’t actually show intoxication, Loney says: “They don’t test for impairment; they test for metabolites.”

[pullquote]According to the federal government, marijuana is more dangerous than methamphetamine or cocaine. That’s crazy.” — Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon)[/pullquote]U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), one of the biggest advocates of reforming federal marijuana law, says employees subject to workplace drug policies shouldn’t risk sanctions in the workplace. But he thinks federal marijuana prohibition will be history by 2020. By then, most states will have more relaxed policies, and the federal government will reclassify marijuana to bring government policy more in line with common sense.

“Right now, according to the federal government, marijuana is more dangerous than methamphetamine or cocaine,” Blumenauer told the Labor Press. “That’s crazy.”

Since 1972, marijuana has been classified — along with heroin and LSD — as a Schedule I Controlled Substance, meaning that it has a “high potential for abuse” and possesses “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”

Blumenauer has urged the Obama Administration to use its legal authority to reclassify marijuana, but so far, the president has refused.

“It’s well known that marijuana is less dangerous than tobacco,” Blumenauer said, “and it’s used by about 20 million people every month in America. Prohibition has failed, just like alcohol prohibition failed.”


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