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Oregon SC: Medical marijuana users not entitled to workplace accommodations

By Chris Rizo | Apr 16, 2010

Oregon Supreme Court justices

SALEM, Ore. (Legal Newsline)-Oregon employers are not required to make accommodations for legal medical marijuana users, the state Supreme Court ruled late this week, drawing praise from business groups.

The high court, in its 5-2 decision Thursday, noted that despite Oregon's medical marijuana law, pot is still defined in federal statutes as an illegal drug.

The Supreme Court ruling overturned a state Bureau of Labor and Industries decision in favor of a drill press operator who was fired in 2003 from Emerald Steel Fabricators Inc. after disclosing to his boss that he used medical marijuana to treat stomach problems.

After his dismissal, Anthony Scevers of Eugene, Ore., filed a discrimination claim against Emerald Steel Fabricators.

In his complaint to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, Scevers accused Emerald Steel of failing to make a reasonable accommodation for a disability, as required by state law. He was a medical marijuana card holder.

The labor commissioner's office ruled in his favor, ordering Emerald Steel in 2005 to pay Scevers $20,000 in lost wages and benefits and $25,000 for emotional suffering. The judgment remained in bond pending appeal.

The Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the Bureau of Labor and Industries determination that Emerald Steel violated state disability law by firing Scevers. However, the majority of justices on the state Supreme Court disagreed and reversed the appeals court decision in favor of Scevers.

The majority opinion by Justice Rives Kistler said Emerald Steel was never obligated to accommodate an employee's use of medical marijuana even if the worker holds a state-issued medical marijuana card.

The opinion noted that the federal Controlled Substances Act prohibits the possession of marijuana whether it's used for medicinal purposes or not.

Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, a Democrat, said the ruling "seriously undercuts" the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, which voters approved in 1998.

"The immediate impact of the Supreme Court's decision is to remove the employment protection that medical marijuana users had under Oregon's disability law," Avakian said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center and Associated Oregon Industries, the state's business lobby, hailed the Supreme Court's decision.

"The decision now means that employers can be assured that they can consistently enforce their zero-tolerance drug policies," AOI said in a statement.
For its part, the NFIB Small Business Legal Center argued in an amicus brief that employers have a right to maintain a drug-free workplace and shouldn't be forced to make reasonable accommodations for workers who use medical marijuana.

The justices said their ruling does not affect how the state chooses to shield medical marijuana users from criminal liability. The Oregon Medical Marijuana Act outlines rules for the possession, growing and distribution of specified amounts of pot.

The Oregon Medical Marijuana Program issues medical marijuana cards to patients, caregivers and growers. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia allow medical use of marijuana.

The case is Emerald Steel Fabricators Inc. v. Bureau of Labor and Industries of the state of Oregon (BOLI 3004; CA A130422; SC S056265).

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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State of OregonOregon Supreme Court