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Pot's legal, but you can still be fired for it

At Oregon Impact’s annual luncheon last week, the nonprofit dedicated to educating the public about the dangers of impaired driving hosted speakers on the challenges of a spike in marijuana use in schools and workplaces after legalization less than two years ago.

Oregon Impact Executive Director Janelle Lawrence attended the annual cannabis conference and was impressed by the creativity of marijuana producers in promoting their product and their dedication to preventing illegal use.

“I believe we have a real positive opportunity to work with those folks,” Lawrence told the crowd of more than 100 public-safety professionals and prevention volunteers gathered on March 16 during the lunch presentation at the Abernethy Center.

Anne Donovan, president of Xenium HR, has been dealing with marijuana in the workplace since 1999, the beginning of medical marijuana in Oregon. Under current law, no employer is obligated to allow their employees to use medical marijuana, Donovan said.

When the legalization of recreational marijuana passed by a comfortable margin in November 2014, a section of the law stated that it doesn’t “affect in any way any state or federal law pertaining to employment matters.”

Donovan emphasized the importance of employers talking with their employees on a regular basis, rather than just give a policy handbook to employees each year.

“Don’t just put it in the handbook and just shove it in the drawer,” she said. “The misperception that’s out there is that it’s legal, so I can use [marijuana] and my job wouldn’t be at risk.”

Donovan acknowledged that there’s a “gray area” in defining “reasonable cause” for a drug screening. Examples include physical symptoms of intoxication, a substantial reduction in productivity and “credible reports” of off-the-job drug use.

“Bizarre behavior” is most difficult call to make in determining to mandate that an employee get screened for marijuana.

“We recommend you do some due diligence before you jump in and go for a drug screening,” she said. “I don’t recommend you do it if you don’t have a written policy.”

Mandi Puckett, executive director of Clear Alliance, then presented on trying to slow down the increasing number of kids who are bringing marijuana or marijuana products to school. The nonprofit provides brochures and school curriculum to show the dangers of marijuana on young brains.

In an anonymous survey in January by the Oregon Health Authority, nearly half of 11th graders with driver’s licenses had used marijuana within three hours of driving. Legal changes and social media have created the false perception that most students are using marijuana.

“In prevention, perception is everything,” she said.

The topic is expected to be discussed further by public-safety professionals from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 30, at the Monarch Hotel & Conference Center, 12566 S.E. 93rd Ave., Clackamas. The Public Safety Forum hosted by the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce will feature Clackamas Fire District #1, Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office and American Medical Response, as well as police chiefs from Oregon City, Milwaukie, Happy Valley and Damascus.