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February 27, 2007 - newstarget.com Democrats spar over medical pot for workers On the job - One legislator's bill would let employers fire legal weed users; another's stops them
SALEM -- The political stakes might not be as high as for school funding or tax increases, but two Democratic senators are jousting over workers' right to smoke medicinal dope.
Last Monday, Sen. Rick Metsger of Welches hustled out of his business and transportation committee a bill giving employers leeway to boot workers who use medical marijuana.
Today, Sen. Floyd Prozanski of Eugene will take up a bill in his Commerce Committee that would prohibit those same employers from discriminating against legal pot smokers.
Current law is a little hazy in this area.
Oregonians approved the medical use of marijuana in 1998 but didn't spell out how it would intersect with workplace laws, other than to say employers don't need to accommodate users. About 13,000 people in Oregon carry a card allowing them to ingest marijuana to treat severe pain or a "debilitating medical condition" such as cancer or glaucoma.
Employers say they shouldn't have to stub out their drug policies for medical marijuana users, some of whom might be high on the job and putting co-workers at risk.
"We don't have the time to deal with this stuff. We're not a social service agency, and we cannot take the risk of somebody hurting their fellow workers because they were impaired," says Bob Shiprack, lobbyist for the building and construction trades council.
"We'll let the Legislature sort this out, I guess," he says.
Medical marijuana and civil rights advocates say workers shouldn't be punished for treating a medical condition. If employers are so concerned about safety, they argue, businesses should test to see whether workers actually clock in unable to do their job.
"The only way they are testing is through urine analysis, which does not show whether a person is impaired at the time they are at the workplace," says Andrea Meyer of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon.
Prozanski agrees with the need for safeguards at work, but he says, "we need to not just go on a witch hunt."
He plans to pass Senate Bill 423 out of committee. Prozanski hopes the two sides can work out a deal.
"Good for him," Metsger says. "I'm going to try to do my best to block" his bill.
Later, Metsger tempered his comments to say he'd have to study Prozanski's proposal. Still, if there's any language "that would conflict with our efforts on (SB) 465," Metsger warned, "I would vigorously oppose it."