Hazy pot laws leave employers
high and dry

By State Representative Kimberly Yee

April 17, 2011

By a narrow margin, Arizona voters passed an initiative last November legalizing the medicinal use of marijuana, putting into motion a measure that will have profound effects on Arizona’s workplaces, communities and neighborhoods.

The new law leads the state down a “hazy” path for our local communities and family neighborhoods.

Arizonans will now face workplaces where workers could be under the influence of a drug that the federal government classifies as a banned Schedule 1 controlled substance. As a result, employers who have undertaken strict measures to ensure a “drug free” workplace must now permit employees to use the drug. Meanwhile, workers will be working alongside co-workers who could be under the influence of the drug.

The potential effects on workplace safety and productivity are immense. That is why I sponsored House Bill 2541, which establishes a clear definition for the concept of “impairment,” something the ballot initiative failed to do. While the ballot initiative allows employers to take disciplinary action against employees who are impaired, employers deserve clear guidelines on how they can deal with employees under the influence of marijuana or other prescribed drugs in the workplace.

My bill also permits employers to reassign to a different position those employees who might be under the influence of a prescribed drug, including marijuana, which could negatively affect their ability to perform in a “safety sensitive” position. This is common sense. If an employee is under the influence of a drug, then employers should have the ability to protect themselves and their business from liability.

The new law could also have broader economic impacts. Consider the case of a large manufacturer located in my north Phoenix legislative district. The company is considering investing millions to renovate its facility. But the company is taking great pause to make this investment because the neighborhood in which it is located is the site of a new marijuana dispensary.

Companies consider where they invest based on a host of factors, including the quality of the neighborhood in which they are located. If companies are concerned that marijuana dispensaries will attract a customer base they find undesirable, then local communities could lose out on the opportunity to attract and retain good jobs. From the Fortune 500 corporation to the local mom and pop shop, companies might think twice before doing business nearby a marijuana dispensary—and in this economy, we can’t afford further job loss.

City councils and their planning and zoning commissions should encourage public input when determining where to locate dispensaries. Local residents have an important voice in keeping the integrity of our neighborhoods, where our families live and our children go to school.

Medical marijuana is now the law of the land, but we should do all we can to implement the law in a way that respects the concerns of employers, encourages workplace safety, and reflects the character of our local communities and neighborhoods.

This article was featured as one of the viewpoints in ABC 15’s “Hear Me Out” debate on a public policy issue.