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Dear Pot Lawyer,

Can medical professionals lose their licenses if they use cannabis?

It depends—on the severity of the use and whether it is affecting a medical professional’s services. Merely using cannabis, like alcohol, is not a ground for revocation of a nursing, dentistry, or pharmacy license in Oregon. Those types of licenses can’t be revoked without due process through a disciplinary procedure before a medical board. Generally, it isn’t until their use rises to the level of a true substance abuse problem that medical professionals might face disciplinary action.

Oregon law lays out the grounds upon which a dentist may be suspended (in ORS 679.140): They include criminal convictions, “unprofessional conduct,” and impairment. Licenses for pharmacists and nurses can be revoked for similar reasons, and none of the grounds for revocation include the occasional use of legal cannabis.

But if cannabis use leads to impairment or incapacity, or the professional commits a cannabis-related crime, the relevant board could bring disciplinary action. Medical boards generally have a broad degree of discretion and want to help repentant licensees who recognize they need help. In 2010, Oregon established the Health Professionals’ Services Program, which provides confidential services to health care providers with substance abuse problems with an eye toward rehabilitation. As an alternative to discipline, the boards can refer licensees to the program for treatment and monitoring. Medical professionals, like legal professionals and the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program, can also self-refer and seek treatment.

The case with doctors is a bit more complicated. In addition to criminal convictions and impairment, a medical doctor can also be disciplined for “violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act” (ORS 677.190[23]). Despite all logic to the contrary, cannabis still remains a Schedule I drug, and its use is a violation of that act. Technically, it would seem that the medical board could discipline a medical doctor for merely using cannabis, even without any impairment or real substance abuse issues. However, no medical doctor has been disciplined for personal cannabis use since Oregon legalized recreational cannabis use. We also know that Oregon physicians can and do prescribe medical cannabis without disciplinary action. So it seems safe to assume that any cannabis use issues are being referred to the Health Professionals’ Services Program.

As a closing note, if you are a medical or legal professional with a substance abuse or mental health issue, please contact the Health Professionals’ Services Program or the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program and seek treatment. Treatment is confidential. I have personally seen substance abuse and depression destroy professional careers, and it is tragic both for the professional and for affected clients and patients. There is no shame in seeking help.


Got a question? Email us at potlawyer@portlandmercury.com. And remember that if you have a legal problem, contact a lawyer! Our educational musings cannot be relied upon as specific legal advice.