Oregon lawmakers consider worker protections for off duty pot use

SALEM, Ore.  — Oregon lawmakers will consider making it illegal for businesses to fire employees who flunk drug tests for using marijuana off the clock, reviving a workers' rights campaign that failed in the statehouse last year.

The Statesman Journal reports that a proposed bill would also change state law to protect job seekers who use substances like pot that are legal here.

The proposal reflects a debate over whether Oregon workers should be forced to abstain from marijuana use — which is allowed under state law but remains federally illegal — for fear of getting fired or losing an employment offer.

Senate Bill 301, which represented a previous attempt to loosen employment restrictions, failed in 2017. That bill generally dealt with discrimination against medical marijuana cardholders who tested positive for the cannabis.

The latest proposal has come before the Senate Interim Committee on Judiciary, chaired by Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene. Prozanski said Monday that the concept was a redrafted form of SB 301.

"We'll definitely have some discussions" on the proposal, he said.

The proposed bill wouldn't allow employees to use pot if their collective bargaining agreements prohibit partaking while off-duty, or if there is a "bona fide occupational qualification" associated with their job. It also does not permit working under the influence.

SB 301 included exceptions for labor agreements, workers doing their jobs while impaired and contracts between employers and federal officials that require employers to have " a drug-free workplace" to receive federal dollars.

"There are a lot of questions employers have when it comes to establishing workplace rules, particularly when it comes to cannabis," said Beau Whitney, a senior economist with Washington, D.C.-based cannabis think tank New Frontier Data.

Court rulings on the matter have largely favored employers, he said. "The employers have the say in terms of establishing expectation when it comes to their workers," Whitney said.