Workplace Implications of Oregon's Legalization of Marijuana: Media Coverage

In The News

*Updated July 8, 2015

Today, July 1, 2015, the use and possession of recreational marijuana became legal in Oregon. While hundreds of revelers marked the occasion at the Burnside Bridge in Portland at midnight last night, many questions about the effects of legalization remain, since marijuana remains a prohibited substance under federal law.

One major concern deals with the effect of legalization on employers and workers. Will employers be able to enforce existing drug test policies? Should employers relax or tighten their standards? Where and when will employees be allowed to smoke or eat marijuana? Stoel Rives employment lawyers were at the forefront of workplace reporter George Rede’s coverage in The Oregonian of these issues. Below is a summary of the media coverage.

Q&A on Oregon's new marijuana law

Portland attorney Karen O’Connor participated in a Q&A with Rede and attorney Matthew Ellis, in which she emphasized that for employers (as well as for employees) very little has changed as a result of legalization: 

Yes, the employer has all the power. They can say I don't want employees to smoke marijuana. But the employer needs to look at whether they want to get into what their employees do off duty or not. Most employers don't want to go there. They only care about that intersection of what you're doing on your free time with what you're doing at work. You can't shotgun six beers and go in and be a welder.

I don't think employers are going to change their approach now that it's legal. The issue has not been about legality but about whether it influences your performance at work.

Published by The Oregonian, June 30, 2015. Read the full article at Recreational pot and the workplace: Q&A on Oregon's new marijuana law.

New Laws Don’t Prevent Employers from Firing Workers for Off-duty Marijuana Use 

Seattle attorney Jim Shore headlined an article by George Rede this morning, in which he described the legal, political and practical workplace implications of legalization. Shore represented the employer in a landmark 2011 Washington Supreme Court case in which the court determined Washington's Medical Use of Marijuana Act did not require the company to accommodate a worker's use of marijuana.

According to Shore, state courts have consistently ruled in favor of employers saying they are within their rights to terminate employees for marijuana use because marijuana remains illegal under federal law. "Until Congress takes marijuana off Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, where it's classified at the same level as heroin, LSD and ecstasy, it is illegal for all purposes. It is not authorized for medical use and cannot be used even for medical reasons (in the workplace)," he said.

Published by The Oregonian, July 1, 2015. Read the full article Oregon employers free to fire workers for off-duty marijuana use, national expert says.

Karen O’Connor Participates in Live Chat with Oregonian

On July 1, 2015 reporter George Rede moderated a live chat at the OregonLive website with Karen O’Connor and attorney Matthew Ellis to address live audience questions about the new law and its effects on employers and employees. A transcript of the chat is now available at Oregon legal experts riff on off-duty pot use, sobriety tests, Oregon Country Fair (live chat recap).

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