The Oregon Supreme Court has reversed a lower court ruling that prohibited companies from firing employees who hold medical marijuana cards and use the drug.
The ruling, released Thursday, effectively negates a provision of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act that has prevented employers from terminating card holders who violate company drug policies.
"As Oregonians, we have always believed strongly in our ability to determine the right public policy within our own borders," said Brad Avakian, chief of Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries. "That makes today's decision all the more troubling, because it so seriously undercuts the law that Oregonians put in place, by initiative petition, in 1998."
The Supreme Court considered the case of a man, unnamed in court papers, who began to use marijuana in 1996 after suffering anxiety, nausea, vomiting and severe stomach cramps for several years. In 2002, he obtained a medical marijuana card.
Emerald Steel Fabricators Inc. of Eugene hired the man in January 2003 as a temporary drill press operator. He continued to use marijuana one to three times a day. His work was satisfactory and Emerald officials considered hiring him permanently.
"Knowing that he would have to pass a drug test as a condition of permanent employment, (the) employee told his supervisor that he had a registry identification card and that he used marijuana for a medical problem," according to the Supreme Court decision. "One week later, the supervisor discharged the employee."
The man filed a complaint with the Bureau of Labor and Industries, the agency that enforces disability law and other employment protections. He accused Emerald of not accommodating his disability. The bureau agreed, filing a civil complaint against Emerald, saying that the company had illegally fired him and failed to reasonably accommodate his disability.
An administrative law judge found that Emerald had failed to accommodate the man's disabilities, and the Oregon Court of Appeals later upheld that decision.
By Bryan Denson
April 15, 2010
Oregon Supreme Court ruling reverses protection for workers who use medical marijuana