About Arizoneout

The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) may be the most dramatic change in workplace regulation in the state since I moved here in 2008 and started practicing labor and employment law.  And that’s saying something, because Arizona has been in the national headlines on workplace issues since my first workday here. 

That first workday was January 2, 2008, the second calendar day that the Legal Arizona Workers Act (“LAWA”) was in effect, which required employers to use the federal E-verify system to determine the legal status of new hires.  The local media were full of stories about LAWA and what it meant for employers.

Now, however, the headlines about AMMA focus mostly on zoning and other regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries.  But soon, Arizona employers will begin to feel the dramatic change the AMMA creates.  When AMMA is fully implemented, the change will be dramatic.

Indeed, here is what a few courts in other states had to say while determining that the medical marijuana laws adopted in those states did not cause the sort of dramatic changes in workplace laws that AMMA indisputably does here in Arizona:

“In any event, given the controversy that would inevitably have attended a legislative proposal to require employers to accommodate marijuana use, we do not believe that [California’s] Health and Safety Code . . . can reasonably be understood as adopting such a requirement silently and without debate.”

  • Justice Werdegar, California Supreme Court, in Ross v. RagingWire Telecommunications, Inc. (2008) (emphasis added).

“[I]t is unlikely that voters intended to create such a sweeping change to current employment practices.”

  • Judge Christine Quinn-Brintnall, Washington Court of Appeals, Division Two (2009) (emphasis added).

“Under Plaintiff’s theory, no private employer in Michigan could take any action against an employee based on the employee’s use of medical marijuana.  This would create a new protected employee class in Michigan and mark a radical departure from the general rule of at-will employment in Michigan.”

  • Judge Robert J. Jonker, United States District Court, Western District of Michigan, in Casias v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (2011) (emphasis added).
When the voters of Arizona adopted AMMA by a slim margin of 4,341 votes out of nearly 1.7 million cast in November 2010, they did by express terms just what the judges in California, Washington and Michigan determined that the voters in those states did not in adopting medical marijuana laws:  dramatically changed permissible workplace drug policies.

Arizona’s law is not unprecedented.   Two other states – Rhode Island in 2005 and Maine in 2009 – adopted statutes that created a protected class of medical marijuana users or caregivers.    The courts of Maine and Rhode Island have not, however, made authoritative pronouncements on the implications of those laws.

So Arizona employers are navigating uncharted waters as they examine their policies and deal with workplace issues related to the AMMA as they arise.  That lack of precedent, that unplowed field of law struck me as the perfect subject for a blog.  So who am I and what are my qualifications for writing this blog on the workplace implications of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act?  Please allow me to introduce myself.

I am the partner in charge of the Phoenix office of Ford & Harrison LLP, a national labor and employment “boutique” law firm with 19 offices in 13 states and the District of Columbia.  We are “boutique” in that we focus our practice on the law governing the workplace, and limit our practice to representing the management or executive side in labor and employment disputes.  You can learn more about my law firm at www.fordharrison.com.

Ford & Harrison has had a Phoenix office since 2007, although I did not begin my practice here until January 2008.  I have been practicing law for more than 20 years, however, as I started my practice in Tampa, Florida, and joined Ford & Harrison’s Tampa office in 2001 as a partner.  Prior to that, I was a commercial litigator, who handled a lot of class actions and other employment litigation matters, including trade secrets and noncompetition covenant disputes.

Law is my second career.   My first career was as a journalist.  My undergraduate degree is in journalism.  I am a proud graduate of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Class of 1981.  I worked on UNC’s fine student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, throughout my college years, serving as its managing editor when I was a senior, during which time we were recognized as an All-American College Newspaper.

After graduation, I went to work for my hometown newspaper, the Greensboro Daily News, which became the News & Record while I was there.  I worked as a reporter and editor there, and spent a large chunk of time investigating and writing with two other investigative reporters a prize-winning several-day series on cocaine in 1986, which was the “hot” drug at the time.

In 1984, I moved to Florida and went to work for the Tampa Tribune, and worked as an editor and ultimately the Bureau Chief for a four-office, 10-reporter bureau in Pasco County, the county just north of the counties that are home to Tampa and St. Petersburg, Florida.  Drug-crime stories were standard fare at the Tribune throughout my tenure there.

I left mass market journalism behind in 1987 when I went back to UNC-CH for law school, although I was on the UNC-CH Law Review, serving as Executive Articles Editor my final year.  I have dabbled in legal journalism throughout my law practice, serving as editor of the Journal of the Florida Association for  Women Lawyers and the newsletter of the American Bar Association Section of Litigation’s Committee on Class Actions and Derivative Suits.

But those legal periodicals did not have the same feel or mission as my earlier journalism roots.  About a year ago, however, I became the editor of the Arizona Employment Law Letter, a monthly publication about the law governing Arizona workplaces, published by M. Lee Smith Publishers, LLC.   I admit it; this latest editor’s gig has caused my long-dormant journalist’s juices to flow once again.

Arizona had several issues affecting the workplace on the ballot in November 2010, and at the publisher’s urging, I coordinated election night coverage of those ballot issues among my Ford & Harrison colleagues who also write for the Arizona Employment Law Letter.  I claimed AMMA for myself, as I recognized that it was the most significant measure on the ballot affecting employers.

I monitored vote tally results into the wee hours on election night, and ultimate “filed” an article with inconclusive results on the AMMA initiative when our deadline came for the web articles the publisher was posting.  I continued to follow the vote counting, and wrote a story about AMMA when it finally became clear on November 13, 2010, eleven days after Election Day, that the slimmest majority of Arizona voters had approved it.

Since Election Day, I have written several articles about AMMA for the Arizona Employment Law Letter and the Ford & Harrison firm website.  Over the next several weeks, I will try to post a blog entry on most business days.

I plan to write about all manner of topics touching on medical marijuana and the Arizona workplace, including:

  • What things we know for certain from the statutory language of the AMMA;
  • What additional information the regulations issued by the Arizona Department of Health Services add to the mix;
  • How the Arizona Legislature has tried to assist employers by passing additional statutes, and whether the legislative fixes will prove successful;
  • The implications of marijuana’s continuing illegality under federal law;
  • What the experience of other states adopting medical marijuana laws teaches for Arizona employers; and
  • What steps Arizona employers need to take to implement this dramatic change.

The blog will follow legal developments with implications for the Arizona workplace as they develop.  There are myriad issues, and lots and lots of tasks for employers to accomplish, sooner rather than later.  According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, as of May 24, 2011, there already were nearly 3,700 patients licensed to use marijuana in the state.

I hope you will read along as this blog unfolds.  And please post your questions and comments, which I will review and, if appropriate, share with other blog readers and provide the best answers I can.

Stay tuned . . . .