Arizona medical marijuana law strong for workers, expensive for businesses

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MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

Medical marijuana is once again a hot-button topic with last week's Colorado Supreme Court ruling that allowed Dish Network to fire a call center employee who tested positive for the drug despite having a medical marijuana card.

The ruling has people in other medical marijuana states, like Arizona, wondering what the impact could be on local laws.

"We won't see a result like that emerge here anytime soon," said John Balitis, employment attorney with Fennemore Craig.

Unlike Colorado, Arizona's medical marijuana law has protections for workers. Balitis said Arizona is one of about a half dozen states that prohibit employers from discriminating against medical marijuana users so long as that worker isn't in a safety-sensitive position or obviously high at work.

"It's important for Arizona businesses not to be misled by that [Colorado] decision into thinking they are free to fire any worker who the employer discovers is using medical marijuana," Balitis said. "It's important for workers to understand that their employers don't have the complete right to let them go just because they have a [medical marijuana] card."

But strong protections for Arizona workers is costing Arizona businesses lots of money.

"All businesses used to hold what they called a zero tolerance [insurance] policy," said Jack Stubbs of Buddy Stubbs Harley Davidson. "So what that does for us is create a financial burden in having to pay out more premiums because we can no longer carry that zero tolerance policy."

Stubbs has to carry a lot of insurance to protect service shop workers and its expensive inventory of bikes. But because the Arizona medical marijuana law protects workers so completely, most Arizona employers can no longer claim to have a zero tolerance drug policy.

"The insurance company's stance on that is to move your business to a state where you can adopt a zero tolerance policy," Stubbs said.

Stubbs said his family's business loses between $10,000 and $15,000 in insurance premium discounts because of the law.

Stubbs said he has no problem with medical marijuana itself and even believes Arizona's law is a fair compromise between employers and their workers. But he wishes the Legislature would pass an additional law to offer protections for businesses that he believes are being unfairly punished for complying with state law.

"Some type of law on the books stating that insurance carriers are not allowed to discriminate against local businesses based on the fact that we're abiding by a law that was passed by the voters here," Stubbs said.

Arizona's medical marijuana law -- like all the others -- is still in conflict with federal pot prohibition. That could eventually lead to employment lawsuits in our state.

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