Not all smoke is equal?

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board December 18, 2013 09:44 am

Do you smoke cigarettes?

Do you work indoors?

Go ask your boss if you can smoke at work.

The answer, of course, will be no.

Oregon law prohibits smoking at most indoor workplaces.

In fact, even if you’re outside you can’t light up within 10 feet of the building’s entrance, exit or air intake.

The state law, though, deals specifically with smoking tobacco.

If you prefer instead to puff on marijuana, and you work at a store that sells medical marijuana, you might be able to sidestep that pesky workplace smoking act as neatly as pot proponents have gotten around those silly federal drug laws.

Never mind that marijuana smoke is an even bigger health hazard than tobacco smoke, which itself is so noxious that some cities, including Baker City, have either banned smoking in outdoor parks or are considering doing so.

This past summer the Legislature passed House Bill 3460, requiring medical marijuana sales outlets to register with the state, and to adhere to rules which the Oregon Health Authority will approve.

The Health Authority is scheduled to start accepting applications from dispensaries on March 3, 2014. In the meantime a committee, appointed by the Health Authority, has drafted a 30-page set of regulations for the Health Authority to consider. The state agency also will conduct a series of public meetings next year about the proposed regulations, which are supposed to be in effect by Jan. 31.

Most of the proposed rules seem to us innocuous; many, dealing with security requirements for medical marijuana dispensaries, seem wise.

But one rule in particular caught our attention, and for the opposite reason.

This rule, or rather exception to a rule, would allow dispensary employees who have a medical marijuana prescription — which seems about as hard to get as a scrip for amoxicillin for a kid suffering from an ear infection — to smoke marijuana while at work so long as the smoking happens “in a closed room not visible to the public.”

Oregon’s workplace smoking ban doesn’t allow employees to smoke so long as they’re not visible to customers. It just says they can’t smoke at all.

We see no valid reason why marijuana-smoking dispensary workers should be given preferential treatment.

Of course we understand that marijuana, in these cases, is prescribed by a doctor.

That’s fine — for the patient.

But we don’t believe that the benefits a patient might realize from smoking marijuana ought to override the potentially harmful effects of marijuana smoke on other employees.

Oregon needs to be consistent in its regulation of harmful smoke in the workplace, whether the source is tobacco or marijuana.

The Health Authority should eliminate that exemption from the rules for medical marijuana dispensary employees.