Arizona nurse: I was fired for having a medical-marijuana card

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Frank Camacho

Posted on October 21, 2011 at 4:54 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 24 at 8:28 AM

COTTONWOOD, Ariz. -- In what could be a first-of-its-kind case here in Arizona, a nurse is planning to file a wrongful termination lawsuit, claiming she was fired for being a medical-marijuana card holder.

Her former employer says that's not exactly what happened. Esther Shapiro said she was fired two months ago after telling her bosses at the Verde Valley Community Hospice in Cottonwood that she held a medical-marijuana card as a result of Arizona's recently passed and much-debated medical-marijuana law.

Shapiro said she had been working for a couple of weeks when she was asked to take what she called a pre-employment drug test. She told her supervisor she had a medical-marijuana card.

"I said to her, 'I carry a medical-marijuana ID so it's going to come back positive,'" Shapiro recalled. "She was visibility upset. … The whole point of carrying a medical-marijuana card is that you're legal. It's nobody's business."

Shapiro said she was fired the next day.

According to Shapiro, the decision was made after the facility talked with its car-insurance provider and was told that she would be too much of a liability.

"What's interesting about that fact is that we drive our own vehicles and carry our own car insurance," Shapiro said. "It didn't even make sense."

Shapiro's lawyer says the law is on her side.

"The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act says that en employer cannot discriminate or take an adverse employment action against an employee simply based on the fact they are a medical-marijuana card holder," explained David Weissman of Rose Law Group.

Verde Valley Hospice has a slightly different version of events. The owner, Bill Hays, said Shapiro was not fired, but rather she "abandoned her position."

According to Hays, Verde Valley was waiting to hear back from the state health department and their insurance company when Shapiro quit.

Shapiro says she plans to file and unlawful termination suit in the next week or two.

The issue of employer-employee relations is one of several hot-button issues since the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act became law this year.

In May, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the state of Arizona asking for a declaratory judgment on the legality of its new voter-approved medical marijuana initiative.

The lawsuit stems from a letter written by U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke last month. In that letter, Burke warned that growing, distributing and possessing marijuana is against federal law. He also said individuals and businesses engaged in those activities could face federal charges.

While Burke said in his letter that growers and sellers could face federal charges, he also said he had no plans to go after “seriously ill individuals who use marijuana as part of a medically recommended treatment regimen and are in clear and unambiguous compliance” with Arizona’s law.

The dispensary portion of the law is on hold until a judgment is reached, but the state moved ahead with accepting applicants for and distributing medical-marijuana cards.

Shapiro's case, if it goes forward, could break new legal ground in Arizona.

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