Medical marijuana users ask lawmakers to protect jobs

February 26, 2007

Associated Press, East Oregonian

SALEM (AP) - Medical marijuana advocates pleaded with lawmakers Monday to enact a bill that would prohibit employers from firing them because of their choice of medication. "The bottom line is I need a job and I don't make enough through Social Security and food stamps," said Judy Adamson, a 61-year-old widow, breast cancer survivor and registered medical marijuana user. Last year Adamson was suspended from her job as a driving instructor when she tested positive for cannabis after her former employer ordered her to take a drug test.

The new bill comes just a few weeks after a previous bill was introduced that would allow employers to fire employees who fail drug tests - even if they are a state registered medical marijuana user. That bill is currently being considered by the Business, Transportation and Workforce Development committee.

Both measures aim to clarify whether an employer in Oregon has the right to terminate someone's job if they fail a drug test but are a registered medical marijuana user.

Many employers say they already have that right. "The goal is to make sure that medical marijuana is treated as a possible intoxicating substance," said Jeff Dean, director of government affairs for the Pacific Northwest chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors.

During the last few weeks everyone from former commercial helicopter pilots to representatives from the construction industry have spoken about the importance of drug-free workplaces. But on Tuesday, lawmakers heard mostly from those who use medical marijuana for a variety of illnesses, and say that doing so helps them maintain their jobs.

"The nature of the discussion is straightforward," said Leland Berger, an attorney who testified on behalf of medical marijuana users. "It should be treated as any other medication."

But employers warn that medical marijuana users pose risks to themselves and other employees, and that drug tests are the surest way to keep out workers who might be impaired by marijuana use. Others say the best way to identify if a worker is impaired - not just by cannabis but by any type of medication or drug - is through computer programs and even video games that can test a person's reflexes and hand-eye coordination.

Andrea Meyer, a representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, said drug tests done through a urine analysis provide a false sense of safety because they don't reflect a worker's ability to function.

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