Medical marijuana no threat to safety

"The sky is falling, the sky is falling!" cried Chicken Little. "Emergency! Emergency!" cries Don Harmon (guest opinion, Feb. 17) with just as much connection with reality. For over three legislative sessions, Harmon has proclaimed an emergency in the workplace because some workers use marijuana therapeutically. He wants to fire any such person, no matter when or where that use occurs. It is a safety issue, he says.

Oregon law says, "Patients and doctors have found marijuana to be an effective treatment"¦ and therefore, marijuana should be treated like other medicines;"¦". In most workplaces there are established guidelines for other medicines and therapeutic marijuana is best treated like them. If there is an issue of impairment, Oregon law already allows impaired workers to be removed, no matter the cause.

Still, that is not enough for Harmon. I have watched Harmon testify before three Legislatures that Oregon needs "Emergency" legislation so employers can fire therapeutic marijuana users at will. He and a small crew of ditto-heads speak in alarmed tones about problems caused by those workers. Yet when Rep. Peter Buckley asked directly how many accidents had ever been caused by a therapeutic marijuana using workers, the answer after a long silence was "None." So much for the "Emergency!"

Given the lack of accidents, focusing on therapeutic use of marijuana as a cause of workplace impairment sees misguided, at best. Yet Harmon claims that one of the biggest dangers to the workplace is the "well documented" abuses of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, abuses which can only be solved by essentially demolishing the program. He cites the existence of almost 18,000 registrants as being a problem for employers and evidence of abuse. But is it?

Since the beginning of the OMMP, opponents have waved the red herring claim of rampant abuse at every legislative session and media opportunity, citing everything from the size of some plants to number of patients as proof. But patient numbers or plant sizes are not evidence of abuse — convictions are.

Where are these convictions? There should be hundreds a year if abuse was actually widespread and law enforcement was doing its job. With 18,000 registrants it would take 180 convictions per year to reach an abuse rate of 1 percent. There may be that many arrests, but the number of cases which are actually tried is, by observation, far fewer, and convictions fewer yet. With convictions for violations of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act apparently at less than 1 percent, there is not rampant fraud and abuse but rather impressive compliance with the law. No other law can point to that successful compliance rate.

No one could disagree that any impairment in a workplace is a problem, in some workplaces dangerously so. So, one would think that Harmon and his colleagues would be pleased about actual legislation which allows employers to remove persons from dangerous occupations due their use of a therapeutic agent which may cause impairment and included therapeutic agents with proven impairment records as well as therapeutic marijuana. After weeks of consulting with groups like Associated General Contractors, legislators, labor unions and OMMP registrants, Rep. Buckley authored such a bill for the current Legislature which addressed all of the points made by Harmon, except the arbitrary firing of therapeutic marijuana users. This bill which by all accounts was aimed at a safer workplace for all workers, and was supported by employers and workers was summarily rejected by Harmon and his ditto-heads.

Why? Because workplace safety is not Harmon's goal, but simply his cover. His actual goal is the disestablishment of the OMMP, the most successful such program in the United States. One need only to see that his biggest allies and backers are drug test companies and drug treatment businesses to recognize the actual plan in play. The biggest problem they face is an increasing number of workplaces which are giving up drug testing because of a lack of its relationship to workplace safety and the dissatisfaction it causes among all employees. Ironically, their problem is that admitted OMMP registrants have not caused accidents, thus calling into question of the entire premise of drug testing: that only through costly urinalysis can one tell who is using drugs.

Any normally intelligent Oregonian supports an impairment-free workplace. To do otherwise would be foolish. By the same token, any normally intelligent Oregonian can see through Harmon's ruse and understand his disingenuousness regarding the nonexistent problem of therapeutic marijuana-using workers.

A safe workplace? Absolutely yes! Arbitrary discrimination? Absolutely no!

Laird Funk of Williams is one of the authors of the original Oregon Medical Marijuana Act and vice chairman of the Advisory Committee on Medical Marijuana, though he writes as a private citizen.

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