Oregon's medical marijuana law needs to be clarified in view of the latest court decision. The Supreme Court may do so eventually, but it would be better — more democratic — for the Legislature to perform that chore.

Oregon's medical marijuana law needs to be clarified in view of the latest court decision. The Supreme Court may do so eventually, but it would be better — more democratic — for the Legislature to perform that chore.

In early 2005 the state Supreme Court ruled against a worker who had been fired from a forest-products plant because he used medical marijuana.

In a different case, however, the Bureau of Labor and Industries ruled in favor of a worker, a drill press operator, who had been hired as a temporary and who was let go in 2003 when he disclosed his medical marijuana use. The labor bureau ruled that his employer had to make a reasonable accommodation of his disability, which was that he was smoking pot off the job to relieve his nausea and stomach cramps.

Last week the court of appeals turned down an appeal by the employer, Emerald Steel Fabricators Inc. in Eugene, from the BOLI decision. The court upheld BOLI, saying the company had not followed the correct procedure in bringing up its main points.

This man had been hired for a temporary job, and the company's practice was to require a drug test before offering to keep someone on long term. After doing the job for a while, the employee disclosed that he had a medical marijuana card and wondered whether this would affect his chance of being kept on. His supervisor took the case to the owner, and shortly afterward the man was told he would no longer be needed.

There are two sides here, as anyone can see, and they conflict.

One side is that free citizens should have a right to keep their private life private, not just from the government but from their employers as well. As long as they show up on time and handle the job satisfactorily, what they do on their own time is nobody else's business. To accept something less is to grant that employers can also check up on whether you smoke tobacco at home, whether you have a drink now and then, and ultimately how dangerous your habits and hobbies are to your health, because this might affect the company's benefit costs.

The other side is that employers do have a legitimate interest in making sure their workers — especially drill press operators working around heavy machinery — are not impaired by the lingering effects of substances that may dull their senses. Otherwise the company runs the risk of people getting injured or even killed, and of the company then being sued, not to mention cited for safety violations.

The Legislature could clear all that up. To protect employers, it could declare that medical marijuana is not protected as a disability. And to protect our privacy rights, it could say that employers can require drug tests, but not routinely, only for cause.