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Employer's refusal to hire medical marijuana user upheld

Posted On: Apr. 15, 2010 12:00 AM CST

SALEM, Ore.—In a long-awaited decision, the Oregon Supreme Court has ruled that employers are not required to accommodate employees who use medical marijuana.

The decision dated Wednesday and posted online Thursday in Emerald Steel Fabricators Inc. vs. Bureau of Labor and Industries involves an employer who refused to hire a temporary worker as a permanent employee after learning he was a medical marijuana user. The Oregon Supreme Court's 5-2 ruling overturned an appellate court ruling that had been based on technical grounds.

The Oregon Medical Marijuana Act authorizes individuals holding registry identification cards to use marijuana for medical purposes. However, “under Oregon's employment discrimination laws, (the) employer was not required to accommodate employee's use of medical marijuana,” the Oregon Supreme Court majority ruled.

The court also concludes that even though the state law authorizes the use of medical marijuana, the federal Controlled Substances Act pre-empts the state law.

Reacting to the ruling, Richard R. Meneghello, a partner with law firm Fisher & Philips L.L.P. in Portland, Ore., said the decision is “a comprehensive victory for Oregon employers. It means that employers need not accommodate employees' use of medical marijuana, and they can now feel confident in consistently applying any zero-tolerance drug policy” they may have.

“This was a decision 10 years in the waiting,” said Mr. Meneghello, who was not involved in the case.

Within a couple years of the 1998 passage of Oregon's medical marijuana law, judges and arbitrators issued pro-employee rulings on the issue that put employers “in a state of uncertainty and we've really been living there” ever since. The decision was “definitely anxiously awaited,” Mr. Meneghello said.