Pubdate: Sun, 19 Aug 2012
Source: Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, AZ)
Copyright: 2012 Arizona Daily Star
Author: Howard Fischer


Employers can check worker's card status on database at DHS

Do you have an employee who thinks he can show up at work with his
clothes reeking of marijuana and get away with it just by saying the
doctor told him to inhale?

You can use a little-known database to sniff out the

Bosses are entitled to check with the Arizona Department of Health
Services to find out if their workers are, in fact, medical marijuana
users. And so far about 170 firms, from small shops to corporate
giants Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold and U-Haul International, have
signed up to do so.

Those firms can also use the online database to check the accuracy of
claims by job applicants that they can't pass a drug test -and don't
have to - because they are legally using medical marijuana.

The database will even disclose how much marijuana a user has bought
legally in the last 60 days.

There are also dozens of police departments that are registered users
of the database to verify just who is and is not entitled to possess
and smoke the drug. That means officers can quickly tell if drivers
they have stopped are entitled to have that baggie of Dutch Dragon,
Maui Blue or White Widow on the seat next to them.

The database is an outgrowth of the voter-approved 2010 law that
allows Arizonans who have a doctor's recommendation to obtain up to 2
1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

Under that law, employers cannot fire or discipline workers solely
because they test positive on a drug test. That provision was inserted
after workers with medical-marijuana cards in other states were fired
and the courts there ruled they had no right to sue for their jobs
back or to get damages.

That left employers with lots of questions, including how to determine
who is entitled to such protection.

The Arizona database that can answer those questions now contains the
names of all 30,000 or so people, so far, who have been approved to
legally buy, transport, possess and use medical marijuana, through
still-to-be-opened, state-licensed dispensaries.

But state health director Will Humble said this isn't an open
invitation for companies to poke around in the private business and
health affairs of their workers.

Humble said the system is set up to deal with a situation in which an
employee fails a drug test for marijuana but says he or she is
entitled to use the drug away from work; or in which the worker shows
a medical-marijuana card to the employer.

"The employer can sign up, get a password, enter the 20-digit number
(of the employee's medical-pot card), and verify the card," he said.
"But they can't fish.

"An employer can't punch in names and push 'enter' and find out if
they have cards."

Humble said the same restrictions apply to police and dispensaries:
They can find out if a card is valid, but they cannot simply look up

Cottonwood case

If there was any doubt that workplace protections for cardholders are
needed, just ask Esther Shapiro. She got a $5,000 check last month to
settle a lawsuit she filed last year against Verde Valley Community
Hospice in Cottonwood.

Shapiro, a nurse, was required to submit to a pre-employment drug
test. She said she informed the supervisor she was a registered
medical-marijuana cardholder but did take the test.

The following day, according to Shapiro, the supervisor told her the
hospice's insurance carrier considered her too much of a liability
because of that status, and she was fired.

Attorney David Weissman said Shapiro never did get her job back. But
in what he said is the first case of its kind in Arizona, the hospice
did agree to a cash settlement.

He said that provided Shapiro a "sense of vindication."

Weissman conceded that the settlement sets no precedents. And it
remains to be seen exactly how far courts will allow employers to go
in firing or disciplining workers who use marijuana for medical reasons.

There are limits to those protections.

restrictions apply

Cardholders would be mistaken if they hope to parlay the protections
of the law into an excuse to go outside for a quick hit of their
medication. Smoking or otherwise consuming the drug on company
property was never allowed in the 2010 initiative.

In fact, the measure also says there is no protection for employees
who show up at work "impaired" by marijuana.

That, however, has been a much grayer area. The original measure never
defined exactly what that means.

In a bid to give employers some guidance, attorney David Selden, who
represents business interests in labor matters, wrote legislation last
year to tighten up that language.

For example, the law now defines "impairment" as symptoms that people
may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol that may decrease their
ability to perform duties as assigned. But Selden said any employer
who intends to drug-test a worker still needs to be careful.

"The main thing is to make sure that the decisions being made are
based upon observable symptoms and behaviors," he said.

That 2011 change also gives employers the opportunity to declare
certain jobs off-limits to medical marijuana users. It allows
companies to designate certain jobs as "safety-sensitive."

Selden said that change covers not just marijuana cardholders but
anyone who may be taking certain prescription medications legally that
caution against operating heavy equipment.


Employers who want to use the database have to register at

The Department of Health Services will review requests and approve
those from employers. Once registered, employers can access the
verification website at

The site accepts the 20-digit medical-marijuana registry
identification card, and if valid, provides the name of the
cardholder. It will also, when available, list the amount of marijuana
sold to that user in the last 60 days.
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