Pubdate: Sat, 20 Dec 2008
Source: Bulletin, The (Bend, OR)
Copyright: 2008 Western Communications Inc.
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


How long should it take to fire a sheriff's deputy whose marijuana use
shows disrespect for the law?

Try about nine years. It took Washington County and the Department of
Public Safety Standards and Training that long to prevail in the courts.

The Oregon Supreme Court made a decision this week in the case of Paul
Cuff, a county corrections officer who repeatedly bought and smoked
marijuana and expected to keep his job.

In the case, Cuff had a job driving a bus of inmates into and out of the
county. He was tested in a routine screening for drug use in January 1999.
The test came up positive for marijuana. Cuff's superiors confronted him,
and he initially denied using pot.

Cuff eventually admitted to using the drug off duty, nearly every day for
a month before the test. Washington County fired him in March 1999.

Cuff put up a fight. An arbitrator said his union contract required the
county to offer counseling first. The county refused to rehire Cuff. The
Employee Relations Board said Cuff must be reinstated. And in 2003, the
Oregon Supreme Court agreed. The county reinstated Cuff.

The Legislature made some changes to the law in 1999 that addressed issues
like Cuff's. Basically, a new law said law enforcement officers must be of
"good moral fitness." The Department of Public Safety Standards and
Training came up with rules to implement that law. The rules say law
enforcement officers can't commit acts that would cause a reasonable
person to doubt their honesty, fairness, respect for the rights of others,
or for the laws of the state or nation.

In 2004, based on that provision, the Department of Public Safety
Standards and Training told Cuff that it was going to revoke his
certification to work as a corrections officer. The DPSST did it. Cuff
fought it, disputing whether the rules should be retroactive. He lost in
the Court of Appeals and in the Oregon Supreme Court.

In its opinion, the Oregon Supreme Court said it was difficult to think of
any way to evaluate a person's moral fitness without considering past
conduct. And Cuff himself had admitted that his conduct did not meet
minimum fitness standards at the time it occurred.

Cuff's case is curious not only because it took so long to resolve what
seems to be a simple matter. It's interesting, too, because Oregon
employers face a similar lack of clarity on legal and ethical issues
surrounding the use of medical marijuana. The law is unclear about whether
employers can fire or refuse to hire users.

We doubt that when Oregonians approved the medical use of marijuana, they
wanted people on pot operating heavy machinery or making critical safety
or financial decisions. Oregon lawmakers should pass legislation to allow
businesses to establish and enforce drug-free workplaces.
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