Two opposing bills are on the table: One says treat medicinal marijuana as any other pharmaceutical and don't discriminate against using it, the other says an employer can fire if they want a "drug-free workplace" (does that include coffee, tobacco and prescriptions, asshole?)
Since medical marijuana's legalization in the state in 1998, the number of registered cardholders has ballooned to more than 20,842 participants, most of whom use it to relieve extreme physical pain. But some say the rampant growth of Oregonians eligible to possess medical marijuana has led to an unintended rise in ethical dilemmas, including the ability of businesses to choose whether or not they want to fire employees based on their status as cardholders.
Now, two opposing bills that could expand or limit the rights of cardholders in the workplace.
House Bill 2497 would expand an employer's ability to make hiring decisions based on an employee's status as a cardholder to maintain a drug-free workplace. However, House Bill 2503 would prohibit an employer from discriminating against an employee under certain circumstances where the discrimination is based on the employee's status as a medical marijuana registry cardholder.
Only one of these bills can be approved by the legislature.
Rep. Peter Buckley said HB 2503 was born out of his sympathy for individuals he met who wanted to fulfill their responsibilities at work while fighting painful medical conditions.
"It's an injustice to fire perfectly responsible employees with medical conditions," Buckley said. "I have had three members of my family die from cancer, and I would have given anything to see my dad continue working as a way for him to maintain his dignity."
Although Buckley's bill prevents total extrication of medical marijuana cardholders from their jobs, it does allow employers to use their discretion in letting individuals go if their job requires them to be responsible for other people, such as a school bus driver, construction operator or a physician. Buckley says many medical marijuana advocates might be disappointed in the bill because it does not encompass a wide scope of professional careers, but he promises the bill is better than its alternative.
"We tried to pass the bill in 2007, and it wasn't successful, so we had to make some compromises," he said.
HB 2497, which allows employers to fire workers for being cardholders, is a response to the rising number of questionable medical marijuana cardholders. Since the legalization of medical marijuana, 18,348 people are registered to use the drug as relief from severe pain.
"Using medical marijuana for terminal diseases was something we all had a heart for, but the system has been abused. There are a lot more people who take the drug for "pain" than cancer, glaucoma or aids combined," said J.L. Wilson, vice president of governmental affairs for Associated Oregon Industries. "We never thought people that were terminal would continue working at jobs, but now medical marijuana has become a get-out-of-jail-free card for people who want to abuse the substance and carry jobs."
Monica, a freshman at the University who doesn't want her last name published for fear of legal repercussions, went to a doctor when she lived in California and spoke to him shortly about a false condition of night terrors. She said she easily obtained a prescription for medical marijuana.
"As an abuser of the system, it may not be my place, but I don't think it is right to penalize people who really are sick and want to keep working," she said.
In addition to questionable use, supporters of HB 2497 say prohibiting businesses from keeping a drug-free workplace can limit a business' opportunities to acquire national funding.
Regardless of the outcome, some places of employment, including the University, have few qualms about hiring a medical marijuana cardholder.
"We don't really screen for it, except in our commercial drivers," Associate Vice President for Human Resources Linda King said. "We have had an instance when we inadvertently found out an employee was a cardholder, and it was not an issue for us. The only time it would be is if someone's safety was at risk."
by Lauren Fox
Published on 2/4/09