Pubdate: Wed, 13 Jul 2016
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2016 The Arizona Republic
Author: Yvonne Wingett Sanchez


To get a job at Woodworkers Source, potential employees must pass a drug test.

There's a good reason for that, said Keith Stephens, owner of the 
Scottsdale-based lumber-supply business: "Many, many businesses, 
including mine, have a certain element of risk. In my case it's 
driving a forklift loaded with heavy material and being in the shop 
with chop saws," said Stephens, 72, of Paradise Valley.

If Arizona voters legalize marijuana for recreational use through a 
ballot measure poised to appear on the November ballot, Stephens 
worries it would become more difficult to find qualified workers.

Stephens, who employs more than 30 people and whose company did $6 
million in sales last year, is part of what is quickly becoming a 
united front of businesses, CEOs and commerce and tourism groups 
against legalizing the drug that is still prohibited by federal law.

In addition to making it more difficult to recruit workers, they 
argue legalization could lead to increased workplace-safety problems, 
higher worker-compensation costs and reduced productivity and make 
Arizona less appealing for prospective employers.

"I don't want them hurt ... I don't want the liability," Stephens 
said of his employees, "and I want them to be able to properly take 
care of our customers."

Regulating marijuana like alcohol

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol proposes to set up a 
system to regulate and tax cannabis. Colorado, Washington, Oregon, 
Alaska and the District of Columbia have already legalized 
recreational marijuana. The campaign has submitted 258,582 signatures 
to state election officials in an effort to qualify for the ballot; 
officials are working to verify the campaign has gathered enough 
valid signatures even as some opponents filed suit this week to keep 
it off the ballot.

Under the proposed Arizona initiative, adults 21 and older could 
carry up to 1 ounce of marijuana, grow plants in their homes and buy 
marijuana from licensed stores.

"It purports to 'regulate marijuana like alcohol,' but the problem is 
you can test for alcohol with a breathalyzer ... but you can't do 
marijuana the same way." Julie Pace, employment attorney

The initiative does not authorize employees to work while impaired, 
nor does it require employers to allow possession or consumption of 
marijuana at work. Currently, employers are allowed to observe 
impairment and record it before they terminate or discipline 
employees for suspected marijuana use. Under the measure, employers 
would be allowed to maintain drug-free policies.

But the measure provides no standards for what constitutes impairment 
by marijuana. And state law also offers no standard.

"It purports to 'regulate marijuana like alcohol,' but the problem is 
you can test for alcohol with a breathalyzer ... but you can't do 
marijuana the same way," said Julie Pace, an employment attorney.

Complicating any effort to create such a definition is the fact that 
marijuana metabolites can remain in users' systems for weeks after 
the marijuana high wears off.

"It's not like there's a certain limit or a cut-off and HR knows what 
to do, because it stays in the system for so long," Pace said, making 
it difficult for employers to determine level of impairment while at work.

She offered an example: This week she got a call from a Phoenix 
company asking whether it could reject a newly hired forklift driver 
who tested positive for marijuana. Based on the test, it was 
difficult to determine when the employee last used marijuana.

"That's the problem," Pace said.

Concerns 'far-fetched'

But J.P. Holyoak, chairman of the pro-legalization campaign, said 
business' concerns are "far-fetched" and accused the Arizona Chamber 
of Commerce & Industry, which has railed against legalization, of 
stoking fears.

Holyoak pointed to last year's Colorado Supreme Court ruling that 
said a business could fire an employee for using medical marijuana - 
even when not on the clock and adhering to state law.

Holyoak also noted that Forbes in 2015 named Denver the best in the 
country for business climate, touting a diverse economy and educated 
workforce. He added the initiative does not affect employers' 
drug-testing policies.

"If an employer has a zero tolerance (for drugs), that is fine," 
Holyoak said. "If employers want a drug test, great, that's an 
employer's right to do that."

He added: "To say that this is going to be some type of a huge 
problem, when we have another state almost next door to us and we've 
never heard of it being an issue, seems like a far-fetched idea to me."

Colorado reported 15.2 percent of residents 18 and older had used 
marijuana in the past 30 days, according to the National Survey on 
Drug Use and Health, which relied on data from 2013 and 2014. That's 
up from prior-year data, where usage was 12.9 percent.

A survey released by drug-testing company Quest Diagnostics in 2014 
found Colorado's marijuana-positivity test rates increased 20 percent 
between 2012 and 2013 while Washington's increased 23 percent. That's 
compared with the 5 percent average increase among the U.S. general 
workforce in all 50 states, according to the company. Both states 
were experiencing increases in marijuana-positivity rates before 
legalization at the end of 2012, according to the company said.

Businesses see concerns

Steve Sanghi, chairman and CEO of Chandler-based Microchip Technology 
Inc., said legalization would be detrimental to Arizona's workforce 
and society overall. Sanghi said his company employs about 2,000 
people in Arizona and 14,000 worldwide.

"I would never move my business from Arizona to Colorado today and 
wouldn't expand the business in Colorado because of the problems 
they're having." Steve Sanghi, Microchip Technology chairman and CEO

The company operates a facility in Colorado Springs, and he said "the 
management there is continually reporting large number of problems 
with the employees," namely failed drug tests, productivity and absenteeism.

"I would never move my business from Arizona to Colorado today and 
wouldn't expand the business in Colorado because of the problems 
they're having," Sanghi said. "If Arizona passes this law, that would 
be a significant problem, then we'll become anti-Arizona and we 
wouldn't expand our manufacturing presence here."

Mark Minter, executive director of the Arizona Builders Alliance, 
said his members are concerned about safety issues, particularly in 
an industry where it's critical to be alert and sober while on the job.

"We're concerned about increased use in the workforce, we're 
concerned about being able to run a drug- and alcohol-free workplace 
so that people are safe and people don't get injured, or killed or 
maimed in the workplace."

Also, members who do work for the federal government are required to 
comply with federal regulations, which include maintaining drug-free 

Funding an opposition

Those concerns are fueling opposition efforts from the business 
community. Opponents, led by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & 
Industry, have raised more than $640,000 for their efforts. Donors 
include Randy Kendrick, wife of Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick; U 
Haul; and homebuilders.

Sanghi said his company donated $25,000 to the anti-legalization 
campaign after getting a "personal call from" Republican Gov. Doug 
Ducey about the measure.

Marijuana-legalization supporters, meanwhile, have raised about $2.2 
million for their effort. Their funding relies largely on the 
Marijuana Policy Project - which has worked to legalize marijuana in 
states across the country - and medical marijuana dispensaries and 
other businesses that would reap the financial benefits of 
recreational legalization.

"We've seen quite a bit from the construction industry ... as well as 
the agricultural industry," Holyoak said, adding that some 
tourism-related businesses also support the measure.

If marijuana is legalized for recreational use in Arizona, restaurant 
owner Len Combs said he will treat potential impairment of marijuana 
the same way he would alcohol or any other substance.

"If they get out of work after 5, and get high or drunk, there's 
nothing I can do to stop that - if it's legal, it's legal," Combs 
said. "Do I want it in the workplace? No. But I don't want alcohol in 
the workplace, either."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom