How workers use medical marijuana and what employers can do about it

Arizona passed the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act in November 2010, making it legal for people with serious medical conditions to obtain a registry card from the Arizona Department of Health Services. As long as a person legally has this card, he or she is able to buy or grow marijuana – strictly for medical purposes – and is not able to use workers’ compensation insurance benefits to pay for its purchase.

Studies have shown that medical marijuana use alleviates symptoms like nausea, severe and chronic pain, muscle spasms and seizures in patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and hepatitis C, among others. Qualifying patients must get written certification from a doctor recommending they be considered for the program.

Employee marijuana testing and use
The Medical Marijuana Act does not mean all employees are exempt from drug testing; that being said, employers can not refuse to hire an employee if he or she tests positive in a pre-employment drug test and is a registered cardholder. By having the card, the employee is legally allowed to consume marijuana outside of work, but he or she is not allowed to be under the influence during work hours.

The exception to this rule is if marijuana use away from work could affect overall job performance; if faced with this situation, SCF Arizona recommends employers seek legal advice.

The Arizona law prohibits workers from being impaired by marijuana while at work, especially workers in transportation-focused jobs like pilots, bus drivers, truck drivers and train engineers, among others. Explicitly detailing the company’s drug policy – legal or otherwise – in the employee handbook may be helpful to erase any questions employees may have about the law and company stance.

Updated policies may include exceptions to rules regarding drug use for registered cardholders; though, possession use and impairment will not be tolerated at the workplace. It is also recommended that employers revise their anti-discrimination policies to include cardholder applicants and employees.

Once employers discover a worker or applicant is a registered cardholder, they are required by Arizona law to keep the information confidential.

What if a cardholder exhibits signs of impairment on the job?
Employers may want to be on the lookout for workers who show signs of being under the influence of marijuana; though, it can be quite difficult to prove. Common signs of impairment include bloodshot eyes, inappropriate and incessant laughter or sleepiness, lack of motivation, slowed movements and a glassy stare.

Although employers can not immediately terminate registered cardholders for suspicion of impairment, they are recommended to document the incident and gather witnesses. In this case, business owners are advised to seek legal assistance since proving impairment is such a challenge.

Workers – whether they are a cardholder or use marijuana illegally – who are injured on the job while impaired by marijuana may still be eligible for workers’ compensation insurance benefits.

The Arizona dispensary scandal
As of February 2012, more than 20,000 qualifying patients were approved to ingest medical marijuana in Arizona. Six months later, that number is closer to 30,000. However, no medical marijuana dispensaries were licensed for operation by the government until recently, which used a bingo-type lottery system to award 99 companies dispensary certifications to stock products.

Dispensary openings were previously considered controversial because the Arizona Attorney General deemed them illegal because federal laws preempt the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. This opinion put government employees at risk of committing and abating federal crimes by issuing licenses to marijuana dispensary companies, now estimated to be inspected and open for business as soon as the end of the August 2012.

1 thought on “How workers use medical marijuana and what employers can do about it

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