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Medical marijuana provision aids workers who test positive

March 23, 2010

Article originally available at http://www.svherald.com/content/news/2010/03/18/medical-marijuana-provision-aids-workers-who-test-positive

PHOENIX — What happened to a Walmart worker in Michigan who was fired for testing positive for marijuana probably could not happen in Arizona if voters approve a ballot measure in November.

The initiative would allow doctors to essentially prescribe marijuana to patients who are suffering from any one of a specific set of conditions. It also would allow creation of a network of nonprofit shops that would sell marijuana to those who have those prescriptions and let those not within 25 miles of a shop to grow their own.

But the ballot measure also contains antidiscrimination provisions, including one that says an employer cannot make hiring, firing and disciplinary conditions based on a person’s status as the holder of a medical marijuana card. Potentially more significant, that protection extends to someone who tests positive for drugs unless the company could prove the person used or possessed marijuana on the job or was “impaired” during work hours.

Two labor lawyers said that will present hurdles for Arizona companies in proving what is impaired.

And Andrew Myers, campaign manager for the Arizona initiative, said it is, in fact, the intent of backers to preclude workers from being fired for testing positive on the job. “I believe that our language is very clear on that point,” he said.

The Michigan case, which came to light Thursday, involves Joseph Casias who has a medical marijuana card under that state’s laws to deal with the pain from sinus cancer and a brain tumor.

He told ABC News it was never an issue until he sprained his knee at work last November and, pursuant to company policy, had to take a drug test. Casias said company officials fired him for the positive test, saying it doesn’t honor the marijuana cards.

According to ABC, Michigan law says employers do not have to accommodate the ingestion of marijuana in the workplace or employees working while under the influence.

That, however, would not be the case in Arizona if voters approve the version of the law likely to appear on the ballot in November. Backers claim they already have the 153,365 valid signatures necessary to qualify and will file the petitions next month.

Attorney Don Johnsen said current state and federal law does not require companies to make accommodations for those who are using marijuana.

If pot approved, state will get tax

If voters decide to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, users will have to give some of what they pay to the state.

Without debate, the Senate gave preliminary approval Thursday to legislation that says marijuana should be subject to the state sales tax.

That would be an exception from existing law which exempts prescription medications from tax.

Sen. Jorge Garcia, D-Tucson, said he supports the initiative to allow doctors to give patients a written “certification” to purchase and use marijuana. But he said there is no reason to exempt it from taxes.

Legislative staffers estimate the levy could raise $1.3 million a year at the current 5.6 percent sales tax — more if voters approve a temporary one-cent hike on
May 18.

The marijuana initiative will go to voters in November.

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