It's been more than four years since Oregon voters legalized recreational marijuana, and if there's one thing we've learned since then, it's this: Voting to legalize pot is the easier part of that equation.
Making it work — building the framework to help the growth of a recreational-pot industry from scratch and dealing with various unintended or unexpected consequences — that's the harder part.
So it's not surprising that Oregon legislators are dealing with a fresh crop of bills regarding marijuana; it's been that way since voters approved Ballot Measure 91 in the 2014 election.
In Oregon, one of the surprisingly complicated issues that has yet to be resolved is how to deal with marijuana use in the workplace — or, more precisely, how to deal with workers who use marijuana when they're not at work, an activity that is, of course, legal under Oregon law. That issue again is before the Legislature, in the form of House Bill 2655.
The bill, which is pending before the House Committee on Business and Labor, revives an idea that has been raised before in previous legislative sessions, but hasn't yet gotten much traction. The bill essentially would block employers from requiring workers to abstain from any substance that is legal under Oregon law. (The bill does that by declaring such an insistence by employers an unlawful employment practice.) The bill essentially expands protections the law gives to tobacco users to any substances that are legal in Oregon, which includes marijuana.
The proposal includes some exceptions, however: It doesn't allow a worker to work while impaired. It would not apply if there's a "bona fide occupational qualification" associated with the job — for example, in cases where contracts between employers and federal officials require employers to have "a drug-free workplace" to receive federal dollars. (This is because, while pot use among adults is legal in Oregon, it remains illegal on the federal level, which just adds a level of complexity to the entire equation.) And the proposal wouldn't be in effect in cases in which an applicable collective bargaining agreement regarding the substance already is in place.
As any employer already knows, though, this is a tougher issue than it might appear at first.
For starters, there is no clear standard yet in place on defining "impairment" for pot users — and since tetrahydrocannabinol, the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis, can linger in the body for weeks or longer, testing for THC levels doesn't necessarily equate with impairment at any specific time; a test could be picking up THC that was ingested weeks before. This is the reason why law enforcement agencies have been training officers to become "drug recognition experts," but it's hard to see how the techniques those officers employ could be used in workplaces.
In the meantime, mid-valley employers increasingly lament the difficulty of finding potential employees who can pass the routine drug tests that often are administered to applicants.
It adds up to a complicated and messy situation — and we don't think House Bill 2655 would add clarity. (The bill, and a companion bill in the Senate, have both received public hearings, but neither has moved out of committee.)
In the meantime, other pot bills include a measure to legalize cannabis cafes, places where people could smoke in public. Other bills seek to ease Oregon's huge surplus of recreational weed by opening up the possibility of selling that inventory in neighboring states that have legalized pot.
On the national scene, the issue of legalization has prompted some early sparring among the declared Democratic candidates for the candidacy, — and President Trump recently said he'd support allowing states to decide the issue for themselves. (The forced resignation of Attorney General Jeff Session, a longtime legalization foe, possibly has moderated the president's position.)
Nobody expected the legalization of pot to be a smooth ride. It still looks as if bumps are ahead. (mm)