Thoughts on Marijuana

I suppose someone could get the wrong idea by reading the title of this column. These are not my thoughts while on marijuana, but rather my opinions about some of the issues we now face in Oregon regarding marijuana. Regardless of our personal opinions, marijuana is now a legal product in Oregon that is currently available through medical marijuana dispensaries or by growing your own plants. Marijuana use or possession remains a crime under federal law, and there is no workplace protection for anyone using marijuana on or off the job. Smoking marijuana outside of a private residence remains an infraction in Oregon, and there are likely to be further regulations in the next legislative session that will try to deal with legal smoke migrating from one residence to another, among other things.

Further complicating the picture is the whole issue of trying to determine when someone is impaired by marijuana. The stuff apparently stays in our systems well beyond the point where it actually affects our cognitive functions, so I’m guessing there will be a fair amount of court activity around the issue of whether someone was stoned or not when they drove their car into a ditch (or anything else). In the same way the City would investigate whether alcohol is a factor in any work-related accident, we will look to see whether marijuana is involved. During the past year, I am aware of two cases where alcohol use led to problems for employees and two cases where marijuana was the culprit. As much as I would like to believe everyone knows this, recent experience tells me we need to remind ourselves that coming to work under the influence is a bad idea that threatens the safety of coworkers, the public, and ourselves.

Writing this column after listening to about three hours of testimony and discussion about regulating marijuana businesses may also be a bad idea. I’ve heard more about the subject than I really wanted to know, although I acknowledge there are valid points on both sides of the debate. I do not believe marijuana is the root of all evil, nor do I believe it is a miracle plant that cures everything from cancer to kidney stones. As I wrote last week, my opinion on a law is essentially irrelevant unless I find it so objectionable that I feel the need to resign in protest. I believe our Council has honestly wrestled with the issue and represents the deep divisions within the community. The Council chose to allow medical marijuana dispensaries when most Oregon city councils prohibited them, and now the Council has voted to ban the sale of recreational marijuana at medical dispensaries. Only the voters of Albany can enact a permanent ban, and they may have the opportunity to decide that issue in the November 2016 election. In the meantime, those of us charged with enforcing and administering an array of confusing and sometimes conflicting laws will continue to do so without fear or favor.