PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled that workers can be fired for using medical marijuana even if they have a card from the state program authorizing its use.
The case involves a worker in Eugene who was fired after telling his boss before taking a drug test that he was using medical marijuana approved by his doctor.
In a 5-2 opinion, the court said state law is trumped by federal law that classifies marijuana as a drug with no proven medical value. A dissenting opinion said federal law did not bar Oregon from setting its own policy on medical marijuana.
The ruling overturned a state Bureau of Labor and Industries decision that said the employer had to make a reasonable accommodation for a worker with a physical or mental impairment.
It is unclear if patients using Marinol, a pill consisting of 100 percent THC, the main active ingredient in cannabis, will be subject to the ruling. Marinol is available by prescription from a doctor, although medical marijuana users typically say it is not as effective or as easy to control the dose as vaporized, smoked or ingested marijuana.
Madeline Martinez, the executive director of the Oregon Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, says many medical marijuana patients also have prescriptions for Marinol, which would produce a "positive" result on a drug test. She said there are currently attempts being made to distinguish between artificial THC in Marinol and natural THC.
Perhaps ironically, the prescription-based Marinol is often reported by patients to be undesirable. Many say it is too strong, difficult to control the dose, and it fails to deliver the different combinations of THC and other cannabinoids in natural marijuana that have been found to alleviate different symptoms. For instance, indica and sativa varieties of cannabis provide different therapeutic support. While one is better for pain management, the other may be better for nausea or for helping with autism spectrum disorders
Martinez said she is disappointed in the ruling. She supports "impairment" tests for medical marijuana users in the workplace, which would actually check to see if a patient is using medicine that would impair them at work. Traditional drug testing does not reveal whether a person is currently under the influence of marijuana, or any other substance, legal or not.
Impairment tests detect the ability of a worker to perform when they receive the test. Not only would these tests determine if a worker is impaired by drugs or alcohol, it also detects fatigue and illness, a major contributor of accidents at work.
One company, Bowles Langley Technology, produces impairment tests and says that urine testing is both evadable and a violation of privacy. The test available through a portal on its website, http://www.bowles-langley.com/ is a demonstration of how a worker would be subjected to a series of images that test reaction and recognition time.