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From the Sheriff's Desk

 Sheriff Dickerson's regular commentary on issues affecting the Sheriff's Office.  For the Sheriff's archived comments from previous years, click on the associated year below.

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June 24, 2015

The debate around Measure 91 (Oregon’s successful marijuana legalization initiative—which becomes law July 1) centered around whether or not the recreational use of this controlled substance should be legalized in Oregon—not around its impact to workers in numerous employment venues.


“It’s just weed”—that’s what many say, pointing to research that shows that marijuana is no more dangerous or intoxicating than alcohol—and that the government’s efforts to stigmatize its use has generally become passé.  While I admit that the desire to regulate the spread of controlled substances through the criminal justice system has been met with less than stellar results, drug use in our culture remains a serious problem—particularly for employers—and the Sheriff’s Office is one of those organizations that have taken measures to address potential drug and alcohol impairment in the workplace.


After the passage of pro-legalization measures in Colorado and Washington (and later, here in Oregon), we’ve made it abundantly clear to our employees that no controlled substance (outside of that which is prescribed by a doctor and cleared by that doctor for use while on duty) is permitted to be in our bodies, and no marijuana whatsoever may be ingested by Columbia County Sheriff’s Office employees.


The fact that marijuana is known to have the following deleterious effects on the human body underscores the importance of us maintaining a marijuana-free policy in our midst:

·       Brain imaging scans of heavy marijuana smokers have revealed changes in blood flow to parts of the brain involved in memory and attention. Researchers have also noted differences in the size and shape of the thalamus, the part of the brain that's involved in consciousness and information processing.

·       Heavy pot smokers in studies score lower than non-users on tests of memory, attention, and learning. The more they smoked, the worse they did.

·       Regular users are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, especially when they have a family history of the condition.


Needless to say, the effects of marijuana use would have a devastating impact on a criminal justice organization—considering that memory, information processing, attention to detail and learning are key components of the public safety services we perform. To that end, the union serving as the collective bargaining unit for our members agreed with management that a mechanism needed to be in place to firmly establish our drug-free policy.  In the latest collective bargaining agreement with the Columbia County Deputy Sheriff’s Association signed last summer, the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office has established random drug testing of all regular employees.  This past winter we began random testing through an independent third party, and command staff members (including me, the undersheriff and the jail commander) were among the first members to be tested.  All tests have returned negative since we began this testing program, which will continue indefinitely.


And what is true for our employees is undoubtedly true for many others who work for employers with no-tolerance drug-use policies.  The Oregon Supreme Court ruled in 2010 (Emerald Steel Fabricators, Inc. v. Bureau of Labor and Industries) that employers had no duty to accommodate marijuana use, so long as it remained illegal at the federal level.  For many public and private employers, marijuana restrictions need to be protected in order to insure that the workplace is a safe environment for all.


So while it is true that the recreational use of marijuana in Oregon will not get you arrested, it can still cause dire consequences in your employment with many employers—the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office being one of them.   We will defend the rights of citizens to get high under the law, but the sheriff’s office has collectively served notice that we will continue to uphold the standards of a drug and alcohol-free workplace: doing all we can to insure that the people of Columbia County receive the best service possible in our drive to conserve the peace and keep our county an ideal place to live, work and recreate!






Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 June 2015 08:42