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SALEM, Ore. (AP) - The Oregon Supreme Court says it will review an appellate court ruling that suggests employers make allowances for workers who use medical marijuana.
The case involves Robert Washburn, a former millwright at the Columbia Forest products plant at Klamath Falls.
Washburn had a state-issued card allowing him to use marijuana to ease neck and muscle pain that disrupted his sleep. But the company, which prohibited workers from coming to the plant with controlled substances in their system, fired Washburn in 2001 after he failed several urine tests.
Washburn sued the company, claiming it should have made an allowance for his disability.
A circuit court dismissed the lawsuit, citing a provision in the state medical marijuana law that employers don't have to "accommodate the medical use of marijuana in the workplace."
The appeals court disagreed, saying the test results didn't establish that Washburn had used the drug at work. Moreover, the appeals court said the lower court should decide whether, under the circumstances of the case, Washburn's employer should have had to allow his medical marijuana use.
The Supreme Court is to hear arguments in the case on Nov. 7.
Business groups say employers are highly concerned over the prospect of having to tolerate workers who use drugs.
J.L. Wilson, Oregon director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said Wednesday that the appellate court's "absurd" ruling "clearly took away the ability of employers to manage workplace practices and keep people out of harm's way,"
But David Fidanque, executive director of the Oregon arm of the American Civil Liberties Union, said employers should have to make allowances for workers using marijuana legally to relieve medical problems.
"It's important for the law to understand that medical marijuana patients are disabled Oregonians who are entitled to accommodations like other disabled people," he said.
Businesses, however, fear the appeals court ruling opens the door for unreasonable requirements.
"I don't think even proponents of medical marijuana thought we would have to accommodate it in the workplace," said Lisa Trussell of Associated Oregon Industries, a major business lobbying group.
"An employee could take a break in some parking lot and smoke medical marijuana and come back to work, and unless I could prove impairment, I couldn't do anything about it," she said.
Court to hear medical marijuana case By The Associated Press November 8, 2005 - theworldlink.com
SALEM — An attorney for Columbia Forest Products Inc. argued before the Oregon Supreme Court that voters who approved the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act never intended to force companies to let employees come to work with the drug in their systems.
But Philip Lebenbaum, an attorney representing a mill worker who was fired after failing several drug tests, told the justices Monday that his client’s medical condition left him legally disabled, requiring his employer to make reasonable accommodations for him in the workplace under the Oregonians with Disabilities Law.
The case pits an employer’s right to ensure a safe workplace against a worker’s right in Oregon to use marijuana at home to treat pain. It started in 2001, when Robert Washburn was fired from the company’s mill in Klamath Falls after several failed urine tests.
Washburn had a state-issued card allowing him to use marijuana to ease neck and muscle pain that disrupted his sleep. Washburn, who said he used the drug at home, sued the company, claiming it should have made an allowance for his disability.
A circuit court dismissed the lawsuit, citing a provision in the state medical marijuana law that employers don’t have to “accommodate the medical use of marijuana in the workplace.”
But the state Court of Appeals disagreed, setting the stage for a high-court review. A key question is whether “in the workplace” includes employees using it at home and having it in their systems when they arrive at work.
Voters approved physician-approved medical marijuana use in 1998. Since then, more than 11,000 residents have received state-issued medical marijuana registry cards.
The company argued that state law does not provide workers a blanket exemption allowing them to come to work under the influence.
Portland truckmaker Freightliner, Boise-based grocer WinCo Foods Inc. and Portland roofing material manufacturer CertainTeed Corp. filed briefs on Columbia’s behalf. All three say they found workers in “safety sensitive” positions carrying state-issued medical marijuana cards. Columbia and Freightliner also argue that their government contracts require them to enforce federal drug-free workplace laws.
Justices aren’t expected to issue a ruling on the case until 2006.
Their decision likely would override an interpretation by the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries. The agency has said employers might have to make reasonable accommodations for medical-marijuana cardholders with qualified disabilities, including changing their shifts so they don’t show up to work at times they’re likely to be impaired.
In June, a bill that would have exempted employers from making accommodations for medical marijuana, regardless of where it was used, passed the Oregon House of Representatives 39-20.
The bill failed to make it out of a Senate committee.