Arizona Medical Marijuana and Employment Drug Testing
A federal judge has ruled that an Arizona Walmart location violated the nondiscrimination provision in the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. This is a major ruling on the ever-developing laws around the drug and its use by employees.
In 2016, the Arizona Walmart in question fired an employee who failed a drug test. The employee held a valid state medical-marijuana card at the time. Arizona US District Judge James A. Teilborg based his ruling on the fact that Walmart could not prove that the worker was impaired by drugs at the time. Simply having marijuana metabolites in her urine was not enough to justify her termination.
History On the AMMA
As most people in the state know, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act took effect in 2010. The law allows for a person to obtain a medical marijuana card after they and their doctor fill out the proper paperwork. They can then receive their MMJ card allowing them to purchase marijuana from a legal dispensary or grow their own if they are not located near a legal dispensary.
The AMMA has specific language prohibiting employers from discriminating against workers. The language reads as follows:
Unless a failure to do so would cause an employer to lose a monetary or licensing related benefit under federal law or regulations, an employer may not discriminate against a person in hiring, termination or imposing any term or condition of employment or otherwise penalize a person based upon either:
- The person’s status as a cardholder.
- A registered qualifying patient’s positive drug test for marijuana components or metabolites, unless the patient used, possessed or was impaired by marijuana on the premises of the place of employment or during the hours of employment.
What Led To The Lawsuit?
Carol Whitmire had worked for Walmart for almost eight years before her termination. In 2016, while working as a customer service supervisor, a bag of ice fell on her wrist while she was leveling the bags. She sought treatment at an urgent care facility. As per policy for injuries in the workplace, she had to undergo a drug test, which she failed.
Whitmire had an MMJ card for five years prior to the incident and smokes before bed to help treat her arthritis and shoulder pain. According to the lawsuit, she never brought the drug to work or came to work impaired.
She was fired a few weeks after the injury due to the positive result from the drug test. In March of 2017, she filed a discrimination charge with both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as well as the Arizona Attorney General’s Office civil rights division.
The ruling from Judge Teilborg granted only partial summary judgment to Whitmire for her discrimination claim under the AMMA. At the same time, he denied her claims of discrimination under the Arizona Civil Rights Act as well as her retaliatory termination claim. The court will make a decision regarding damages and possible reinstatement later this year.
What You Can Do
There are many MMJ cardholders in Arizona, people who have gone through the legal process of obtaining marijuana for medical purposed. The AMMA has changed the way people in this state view marijuana, especially employers. When someone drinks alcohol at night, they usually have no problem making it to work in the morning unimpaired. Most people would not say that having a few beers or glasses of wine would impair them the next day.
The same argument can be made for smoking marijuana. However, the metabolites of the drug do not leave a person’s system for quite a while. Long after the intoxicating effects are over, the metabolites remain.
This MMJ and employment debate will likely continue for some time. If you think you have been discriminated against because of legal marijuana use, contact an Arizona employment attorney today.
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