The Oregon Cannabis Tax Act: What Would Marijuana Legalization Mean for Oregon Employers?

The secretary of the state’s office announced on July 13th that the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, a ballot initiative that would legalize possession of marijuana in Oregon, will appear on the general election ballot in November.  A similar initiative was defeated in Oregon in 2010.

However, the ballot has a good chance of success this go-round.  A recent Gallup poll indicates that the majority of Americans favor legalization of marijuana1.  What will it mean for Oregon employers if the initiative succeeds?

Despite any state’s decision to legalize marijuana for any reason, marijuana remains classified under Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act, making it a violation of federal law to possess marijuana, regardless of state laws that might allow it.  In several states, including Oregon, participants in medical marijuana programs have been prosecuted by the federal government for violating the federal marijuana prohibition.

The feds aren’t likely to legalize marijuana anytime soon.  The Obama administration and the Romney campaign have both made it clear that neither has any interest in marijuana legalization.

In 2010, the Oregon Supreme Court upheld an employer’s right to terminate employees who use marijuana while off duty regardless of possession of a state medical marijuana card, citing the federal prohibition. Consequently, Oregon employers still have a right to ensure that their workforce is free of marijuana users.

Why is a marijuana-free workforce important?  Marijuana, which is stored in body fat, remains in the body for hours, days, even weeks or months after use.  According to a recent study by Harvard Medical School, in a frequent user, some of the effects of the drug last for days or weeks after the acute effects wear off.2

Marijuana impairment includes symptoms such as lack of productivity, judgement errors, impaired reaction times, motor skill impairment, depth perception issues, lethargy, irrationality, paranoia, psychosis, visual and auditory hallucinations, issues with memory and problem solving, learning disabilities, and a host of other significant impairments.  Consequently, marijuana use is linked with marked increase in workplace accidents, worker’s comp claims, and loss of productivity.

Some proponents of legalization claim that marijuana is safer than alcohol.  This is not exactly true.  The damage caused to the body by excessive use of either is devastating, but marijuana’s effects on behavior are much longer-acting than alcohol.  Alcohol is metabolized relatively quickly.  One serving is fully metabolized in about an hour.  Having one serving of alcohol per evening is inconsequential to work performance the next day.  One marijuana joint every evening, however, could render an employee unfit for duty for days or weeks, meaning with frequent use, he could be affected 24/7.

If the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act passes, it’s almost certain that cases related to employer drug testing for marijuana will end up in court, though it’s likely that courts will follow precedent based on the 2010 Oregon State Supreme Court decision.

The Oregon Cannabis Tax Act is a legalization measure disguised as a revenue source for the state.  Proponents claim the measure will raise $140 million per year in taxes.  But, at what cost?  How about increased access to and normalization of marijuana to young people, increased addiction to marijuana and resulting side-effects such as obesity, heart and blood pressure problems, panic attacks, sexual problems, isolation, paranoia, depression, and suicide?  What about the cost of a society that condones marijuana use?  Our issues with alcohol aren’t enough of a problem?  Is $140 million worth raising our children in a society where being an unmotivated “stoner” is no big deal?

Some fear this measure is a set-up for employers.  Will they face lawsuits for refusing to hire or for firing someone who fails a marijuana urine test?  Will the federal law against marijuana possession be enough to protect them for enforcing a marijuana-free workplace?  Will there be an increase in workplace accidents, medical insurance fees, and worker’s comp claims and fees?  If an employer suspects on-duty use, there is no test that reliably indicates whether a positive drug test is from acute intoxication or past use.  How will employers ensure workplace safety?

DNA Drug Screening Services has spent 23 years helping businesses all over Oregon and the US create and maintain safer workplaces.  In line with our mission to rid the workplace of the negative effects of drug use in the workplace, we passionately oppose Measure 80 and encourage all business owners, managers, and members of the public who are concerned about the safety and productivity of the Oregon workplace to vote no on Measure 80.

John Andrade, General Manager

For more information about the consequences of marijuana legalization, see our post entitled “ASAM Opposes State Ballot Measures to Legalize Marijuana,” which summarizes a white paper drafted by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, click here.  



November 18, 2016