Since the Arizona Department of Health Services began providing medical-marijuana cards in April 2011 under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (“AMMA”), more than 37,000 cards have been issued to qualifying patients. Significantly, over 80 percent of these cards have been provided to individuals who make up a substantial portion of our workforce — those who are between the ages of 18 and 60. Additionally, of the 37,000-plus cards issued, over 70 percent of them are to individuals who indicate that they have chronic pain. The number of registered qualifying patients likely will increase over the coming years as more and more marijuana dispensaries open throughout Arizona.
Why are these statistics important? The AMMA contains a comprehensive anti-discrimination provision prohibiting employers from discriminating against an applicant or employee based upon either: (1) the person’s status as a cardholder; or (2) 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. As the number of cardholders increases, employers will likely see an increase in the number of employees who are cardholders. Employers should prepare to respond to situations in which an applicant or employee presents a medical marijuana card. An employer should review its drug testing policy to ensure the policy provides the company the maximum protections available under Arizona law.