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Job caution: Marijuana use might cause work issues


Medical marijuana has been legal in Oregon for quite some time.

“It’s a wonderful release of pain,” said Christmas Valley resident James Brookins, who has been using medical marijuana for 16 years.

Brookins said the use of cannabis also helped him reduce his dosage of opioid painkillers, on which he has relied on ever since a work-related injury.

Starting in just two weeks, on July 1, recreational marijuana will be legal as well, but with many restrictions.

Measure 91 does not affect current employer or tenant laws.

“Employers have wide leeway in what they can do,” said Charlie Burr, communications director for the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.

A Colorado man learned that the hard way. He used marijuana for medical purposes at home. His company fired him after his drug test came back positive.

The Colorado Supreme Court decided Monday that it was the employer’s right to do so. The Oregon Supreme Court ruled the same way back in 2010.

The takeaway? Make sure you understand your company’s drug policy before using marijuana.

“Clear communication with your employer is always a good way to go, but you should assume that your employer has wide leeway in what they choose to do,” Burr said.

Burr added that the agency advises employers to have a clear drug policy — but they are not required to have that.

Kurt Barker, who specializes in employment law for the Bend law firm Karnopp Petersen LLP, said there has been a lot of confusion in the community, especially on the side of employers.

For now, many, including Les Schwab, are opting for a strict, drug-free policy.

Barker added that many are asking for more accurate testing methods. Currently, a urine analysis can only say if a person has used marijuana, but not if it was at the time of work.

With better testing methods and more relaxed federal guidelines, many employers might change their policies in the future, Barker added.

Another point of confusion is the difference between medical and recreational marijuana. You will not be able to buy cannabis for recreational use at a medical dispensary. Until October 2016, you will not be able to obtain it legally at all.

The state is all too aware of the problem.

“We jokingly refer to it as the immaculate conception,” said Tom Towslee, acting communications director at the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

“It’s like saying that milk becomes legal, but there is still no cow,” said Jereky Kwit, the owner of Bloom Well dispensary in Bend.

Kwit has experienced the confusion in the community first-hand.

“We spent a lot of time with folks on consultation in person or on the phone,” Kwit said.

Kwit leased the adjacent building to open a community cannabis center, which he sees as another way to help answer questions in the community.

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