Oregon Employer Cleared in Medical Marijuana Hiring Case

April 16, 2010 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – The state of Oregon’s highest court has held that employers are under no legal obligation under state law to hire a medical marijuana user.

Justice Rives Kistler, writing for the Oregon Supreme Court, said state officials are required to respect federal drug laws banning marijuana, which he admitted would nullify the Oregon medical marijuana statute in the current case.

“In sum, whatever the wisdom of Congress’s policy choice to categorize marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the Supremacy Clause requires that we respect that choice when, as in this case, state law stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment of the full purposes of the federal law,” Kistler wrote. “Doing so means that (Oregon law) is not enforceable.  Without an enforceable state law authorizing employee’s use of medical marijuana, that basis for excluding medical marijuana use from the phrase ‘illegal use of drugs’ in ORS 659A.122(2) is not available.”

The employee can’t claim protection from Oregon state law also because he was not using medical marijuana under supervision of a doctor as the medical marijuana laws require.

The decision came in Emerald Steel Fabricators Inc. vs. Bureau of Labor and Industries that involves an employee that contracted a serious medical condition and who initially sought conventional medication to help him deal with his ailment’s physical effects. According to the ruling, the conventional medication was unsuccessful in dealing with the employee’s ailment so he received a state ID card permitting him to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. The Oregon Medical Marijuana Act authorizes individuals holding registry identification cards to use marijuana in that way.

Kistler’s ruling said in January 2003, Emerald Steel hired the employee a a temporary drill press operator.  The worker used medical marijuana outside the workplace one to three times per day, doing satisfactory work; the employer considered hiring him on a permanent basis. However, fearing that a pre-employment drug test would turn up evidence of the drug in his system, the worker informed the company of his marijuana use. A week later, Emerald discharged the employee, Kistler said.

The Oregon ruling is here.  

Courts in Washington state (see WA Court Says no Remedy against Employers for Medical Marijuana Users) and California (see Golden State Court Clears Employer in Pot Use Firing) have also found for the employer in cases related to medical marijuana users.