Drug Law

Oregon’s Workplaces Safe Despite Medical Marijuana Patients

| by NORML
By "Radical" Russ Belville

At the beginning of the year, the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Affairs released its 2009 Oregon Occupational Injury and Illness Survey Summary.  Noting that the rates of workplace illnesses and injuries were at “the lowest ever recorded” levels, the report showed 4.4 illnesses/injuries per 100 full-time workers, continuing a trend of decline from 7.0 in 1999.

Oregon’s Measure 67 legalized medical use of cannabis in 1998 and the program began issuing cards to patients and caregivers in 1999.  By 2004 there were over 10,000 registered patients and by July 2011 there will be over 40,000.

Data compiled by NORML contradicts claims by medical marijuana opponents that compassionate use laws will be detrimental to workplace safety and productivity.

During testimony in 2009 in the House Business & Labor Committee, members of the business lobby Associated Oregon Industries fought against a bill to recognize workplace rights for medical marijuana patients.  Michael Adamski of The Stoller Group, a temporary labor agency, stated it was “irresponsible” to allow employed medical marijuana patients “to have marijuana in their systems, putting the safety of everyone around them in jeopardy.”

Yet data on workplace safety and productivity since the advent of the medical marijuana program show that claim to be unfounded.  Prior to the beginning of the medical marijuana program, workplace injuries and illnesses that contributed to a lost workday stood at 3.4 per 100 full-time workers; in 2009 that rate is 2.3 per 100, a decline of 32%.  No-time-lost injuries and illnesses declined 40%, from 3.5 to 2.1 per 100.  Fatalities are down from 3.3 to 1.9 per 100, a drop of 42%.

These declines occurred while the medical marijuana patient registry grew by an average of a little more than 50% per year.

Commenting on the research, NORML Outreach Coordinator Russ Belville said, “While correlation does not equal causation – we can’t say medical marijuana laws made the workplaces safer – we certainly do not see any correlation between Oregon workplace safety statistics and Associated Oregon Industries’ scaremongering about the threat of patients in the workplace.  AOI’s agenda was clear when the Oregon Supreme Court ruled in Emerald Steel that ‘Under Oregon’s employment discrimination laws, employers are not required to accommodate an employee’s use of medical marijuana’ and AOI called the right to discriminate a ‘critical victory’ in a ‘medical marijuana battle’ that ‘could not be better for Oregon employers.’ Unfortunately that ‘victory’ means thousands of patients who are willing and able to work are now discriminated against simply because their medicine is unpopular and are forced to go on the dole for state taxpayer assistance.”