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Insurers: Pot law doesn't affect workers' comp

Arizona voters made marijuana a legal medical treatment nearly one year ago. Still, many questions remain about provisions designed to protect prescription cardholders. During a recent panel in Flagstaff, officials attempted to clear the air about uncertainties regarding the laws. The panel discussion featured a special section about marijuana use and its relation to workers' compensation payouts.

Employers and human resources directors have become increasingly concerned about the impact of the medical marijuana provisions upon hiring and firing rules. One county attorney said that employers are prohibited from hiring or firing anyone based solely upon their marijuana cardholder status.

Despite this protection, experts say that people are not protected if they are found to be incapacitated at work. The law does not specifically define incapacitation, but it does say that workers cannot possess or use marijuana at their workplace.

Experts say that workers' compensation protocol should not be affected by the advent of the new legislation. Arizona is a no-fault workers' compensation state -- that is, if workers injure themselves while they are high, the injury is still covered under insurance provisions. Top insurance executives spoke at the panel, saying that the marijuana law is unlikely to have a significant effect upon current workers' compensation provisions, despite employers' concerns about workers smoking pot on the job.

The proposition that was approved in 2010 allows Arizona residents to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana as part of a medical prescription. Those prescribed marijuana treatments can also grow as many as 12 plants if they live more than 25 miles away from a dispensary. Patients are given a card and a 20-digit identification number that they must present to police if they are found in possession of marijuana.

Law enforcement officers acknowledge the difficulty of enforcing drug laws while respecting medical marijuana provisions but they are attempting to accommodate patients using the drug. Flagstaff's law enforcement officials, for example, have employed a presumptive defense method, which means that officers assume that anyone possessing pot is doing so legally -- until officers have a reason to think otherwise.

Source: AZ Daily Sun, "Med pot law still hazy," Eric Betz, April 2, 2012

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