Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Public and workplace safety critical component of medical marijuana law implementation

January 13, 2011

Glenn Hamer

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry last week submitted comments in response to draft regulations published by the Arizona Department of Health Services regarding the management of the distribution and use of medical marijuana in our state under the Medical Marijuana Act.

The Chamber opposed the medical marijuana initiative when it was on the ballot last fall and we were disappointed that Proposition 203 passed, albeit by a razor-thin margin.  But the people have spoken, and now it's incumbent upon the state to implement the law in a responsible manner and for employers to update their own drug policies to reflect this important change.

The implementation of this law is critical to Arizona communities.  We do not want to face the same scenarios that states like California and Colorado have struggled with, as pot dispensaries have popped up like - forgive me here - weeds on street corners throughout communities.

In Los Angeles alone, pot dispensaries in that city went from 183 to over 800 between 2007-2009 before a city ordinance capped the number of dispensaries and regulated their geographic distribution.       

Californians seemed to have grown weary of the affect the wide availability of marijuana has had on their state.  Voters there in November rejected a ballot measure that would have legalized marijuana beyond its medicinal use.

Having gained the perspective of other state's implementation of their own medical marijuana laws, the Chamber is urging that the law be implemented in as strict a manner as possible.  Our position does not come from some uncaring desire to deny relief to patients in pain.  We know that for patients, their families and caregivers, chronic pain and illness can be a terrible burden.  But we have serious concerns over how this new law will affect the safety of the workplace, medical marijuana patients, their coworkers and the public at large.

We're especially concerned over the concept of "impairment," a term that is used but not defined in the Medical Marijuana Act.  It's important to get this right because the new law says that an employer cannot discipline an employee who might have the presence of marijuana in his or her system if it "appears in insufficient concentration to cause impairment." 

This is critical for employee drug testing.  An employee sample might show the presence of marijuana, but no employer drug test can measure impairment.  There is not the equivalent of an alcohol breathalyzer for marijuana. 

Our recommendations for defining impairment make sense for employers and the safety of the general public.  We're not just talking about jobs that have obvious public safety components to them like bus drivers or pilots, but for the plumber who's in your house and risks flooding your bathroom or the electrician who could make a mistake that knocks out your power.

We also want to make sure that only the most qualified individuals can be certified to possess marijuana dispensary registration certificates.  The Act says that only one dispensary can be established for every 10 pharmacies in a given area, but it doesn't contemplate what happens when more than one prospective dispenser applies for the same area.  The Chamber advocates for the establishment of a ranking system that weighs applicants' ability to secure their inventories among other factors. 

Security issues figure prominently in our comments as we recommend the storage of marijuana inventories in secure locations and containers in case of break-ins and theft; electronic record-keeping to track the transportation of marijuana product; and the use of biometric identifiers for medical marijuana users to thwart fraud. 

The Chamber is an unabashedly pro-free market organization, so it's not lost on us that we're recommending a pretty tough regulatory structure for medical marijuana.  But we believe that without clear rules for the use and distribution of medical marijuana and easy-to-understand consequences for non-compliance, that we risk the potential for abuse of the system that could jeopardize the public's welfare.

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