The courts add weight to medical marijuana laws while workplace practices
struggle to find their balance.

Advocates of medical marijuana have every reason to be pleased with this
week's ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that the
federal controlled substances act doesn't trump state laws allowing
medicinal use of pot.

If you're looking for guidance in the workplace, though, the news isn't so
good, as The Oregonian's Brent Hunsberger reported in Thursday editions.

The decision by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit is the second major
victory for the medical marijuana folks, the first being last summer's
decision by the U.S. Supreme Court not to hear appeals of a ruling about
physicians' licenses. In that case, a lower court rejected the Justice
Department's claim that the Controlled Substances Act empowered the feds to
revoke the licenses of doctors who prescribed marijuana.

Given those decisions, the question of whether the states could enact
medical marijuana laws if they want is beginning to seem settled. The courts
are putting together a record of not allowing the feds to interfere.

But the tougher question has always been whether the states should enact
such laws. And a look into the swamp of employment practices and regulations
offers a different and far more cautionary picture.

As Hunsberger's story said, Freightliner is appealing an arbitrator's order
to reinstate an employee it fired after he failed a drug test given after a
forklift mishap. The test found marijuana in the employee's system, but the
employee had a prescription for it. The company didn't argue that the
marijuana impaired the employee, only that it was found in his system.

The arbitrator made the right decision, in our view, because it's hard to
see a link between the marijuana and the accident. But the company has a
couple of solid points on its side, too.

First, by not firing someone who tests positive for marijuana, the company
risks important business with the federal government if the feds decide to
make an issue of employee drug use.

Second, the state law voters approved in 1998 says businesses do not have to
make any special provisions for people who are medical users of marijuana.
It's hard to know what exactly that means, though.

Plenty of prescription drugs mix poorly with the workplace, and companies
ought to be within their rights to require employees not to work while
impaired. Often, employees and employers work these things out informally,
but, frankly, it's hard to see many medical marijuana users discussing it
with their employers, considering the repute in which most employers hold
marijuana.

As bad is it is, though, medical marijuana is the law in Oregon, and it must
be accommodated. Employers should have the right to protect their employees
and the public by insisting that employees be unimpaired by drugs --
prescribed or not -- at work.

Employees, though, should be able to count on prescription marijuana being
treated the same as other prescriptions. They should also be given the
opportunity to argue that testing positive for prescribed marijuana is not
necessarily the same thing as being impaired by it.


Pubdate: Sat, 20 Dec 2003
Source: Oregonian, The (Portland, OR)
Copyright: 2003 The Oregonian
Contact: mailto:letters@news.oregonian.com
Website: http://www.oregonlive.com/oregonian/
Author: The Oregonian (Editorial)