During a panel discussion on medical marijuana last Friday morning at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Hotel and Casino, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said legalization of the substance for medical use is raising great concern among law enforcement officials.
“People in the law enforcement field view medical marijuana as a way to kick the door open for the eventual legalization of the drug,” he said.
The chief concern Babeu cited at the panel was what would happen when those using medical marijuana got behind the wheel.
“Traffic accidents are already the number one cause of death in Pinal County,” he said. “Marijuana is clearly going to impact a person’s driving abilities.”
Further complicating the issue of drivers impaired by pot is the difficulty of detecting the substance after it has been ingested.
Babeu said statewide only about one percent of police officers are trained to detect if someone is under the influence of marijuana.
While a possible increase in traffic accidents was Babeu’s primary concern, he said the new law allowing medical use of pot will also raise enforcement issues regarding marijuana cultivation.
The new law allows people who don’t live within 25 miles of a medical distribution center to grow up to 12 marijuana plants.
“These self growers are a big issue,” Babeu said.
Another speaker on the panel, Jordan Rose of the Rose Law Group, said that cities could help limit the potential issues with the cultivation by passing zoning ordinances that allow for dispensaries in their city.
“Allowing people who do not live within 25 miles of a dispensary to grow their own marijuana is not in the best interest of the state, counties or cities,” Rose said.
In Maricopa, officials are considering a code that is so stringent, it could make it impossible for a dispensary operator to find a legal physical location.
The new law, passed by voters in November, also creates concerns and potential problems for employers.
During the panel, the owner of a hauling service expressed concern because federal law requires his drivers to pass a drug test in order to get their license.
Speaking as a supervisor, Babeu said he was concerned too that if his employees use medical marijuana their job performance may be affected.
To deal with these concerns, Rose said that it was wise for employers to modify their handbooks to reflect a medical marijuana policy for work that is similar to the policy employers have for other prescription drugs.
In terms of performance, the lawyer said employers should monitor their employee’s performance and that if there is a drop in productivity that could be grounds for termination.
“In Arizona a person can be fired for lack of performance,” she said.
Arizona residents can begin putting in applications to receive medical marijuana or open a dispensary on April 13.