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Pot bill fails, new one in the works

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

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SALEM Of the business-related legislation that died in this year’s special legislative session, it was a workplace medical marijuana bill that may have had the most mixed support from Oregon’s business community.

Backed by the Oregon-Columbia chapter of the Associated General Contractors, the bill was a pared-down version of bills restricting medical marijuana in the workplace that died in previous sessions. That failed legislation encompassed all businesses. But the 2008 special-session bill stated that only companies with workers who performed potentially hazardous duties — for example, using explosives or construction equipment, logging, roofing, operating power tools or a car — would not be required to accommodate employees who used medical marijuana.

Even with its narrow focus, the bill was opposed by civil liberties groups who felt it impinged on the state’s 1998 medical marijuana act. But it was also opposed by Associated Oregon Industries. And by The Oregonian, which ran an editorial titled “Don’t make a bad marijuana law worse.”

The fear was that by only focusing on one class of worker, the bill implicitly gave tens of thousands of other workers in non-hazardous jobs the right to use medical marijuana on the job.

Richard Meneghello is a partner at the Portland office of Fisher & Phillips, which represents employers in labor cases. “It would have been very easy for someone to torture the [bill’s] language and end up there. I think we would have had numerous lawsuits that would have probably gone in favor of medical marijuana advocates” he says.

That was one of AOI’s biggest concerns, says J.L. Wilson, vice president of government affairs for AOI.

With 2008’s failure for businesses and organizations working to limit medical marijuana in the workplace, the focus turns to the 2009 legislative session.

Ryan Deckert, president of the Oregon Business Association, says internal subcommittees are looking at marijuana in the workplace and the group as a whole will take a position later this year.

AOI and the Associated General Contractors are already collaborating on a new bill. Wilson thinks that a possible change in House leadership following the November election will cement support.

“There were only a few legislators who derailed the process [for a bill in 2007],” he says. “This time it won’t be an issue.”                    

ABRAHAM HYATT



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