HR Management & Compliance

Oregon employers shouldn’t freak out over new marijuana law

by Calvin L. Keith

On November 4, Oregon voters passed Initiative 91, which legalizes recreational marijuana in Oregon. With Oregon joining other states that have approved recreational marijuana use, Oregon employers may be wondering what the new law means for their drug policies. The short answer is not much.

Initiative 91, which will take effect on July 1, 2015, allows the purchase, distribution, and use of marijuana for recreational purposes in Oregon. Those acts remain illegal under federal law. Federal contractors and employers that receive federal funding still must prohibit the consumption of marijuana on their premises. Employers with employees who are regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) must follow regulations on drug testing and drug use.

Oregon employers remain free to maintain broad prohibitions on marijuana use, including the consumption of marijuana outside the workplace or for medical purposes. The new law does not affect employers’ duty to accommodate the use of medical marijuana. As long as marijuana remains illegal under federal law, Oregon employers have no duty to accommodate the use of medical marijuana under state or federal law.

Oregon employers should review their drug policies to ensure they cover marijuana use, even though marijuana use is legal under Oregon law. Employers may want to remind employees that marijuana use is still covered by company drug-testing policies and programs, even though recreational marijuana use is now legal in Oregon.

Oregon joins Colorado and Washington State in making recreational marijuana use legal. The Oregon measure allows the possession, manufacture, and sale of marijuana by and to adults subject to state licensing, regulation, and taxation.

In addition to Oregon, voters in Washington, D.C., voted in favor of recreational marijuana use. However, since Congress has the authority to overrule District of Columbia laws, the issue may not be settled.

Watch for more information in upcoming issues of Oregon Employment Law Letter.

OR_CalvinKeithCalvin L. Keith is an attorney in the Portland office of Perkins Coie LLP and the senior editor of Oregon Employment Law Letter. He can be reached at