At a press conference this morning at the State Chamber of Commerce, Gov. Asa Hutchinson
continued voicing his opposition to the two ballot initiatives
that could bring medical marijuana
to the state. Hutchinson was backed by Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin and several prominent Arkansas businessmen, who said they were worried marijuana use by their employees — along with a clause that would keep them from discriminating against those prescribed marijuana for illnesses — would cause safety concerns for their workforce and drive up insurance costs.
Hutchinson was joined this morning by Joe Carter, CEO of Snyder Environmental, an asbestos abatement company in Little Rock; Grady Harvell, President and CEO of AFCO Steel; Doug Lawson, president and CEO of Kinco Construction, and Butch Rice, President and CEO of Stallion Transportation Group, a trucking company based in Beebe.
Carter said that while he's a parent and a compassionate person who doesn't want sick people to suffer, he is in opposition to the passage of the initiatives because of the anti-discrimination clause of the bill that would prevent someone who tested positive for marijuana from being fired. Currently, Carter said, there's no clear medical definition of what impairment by marijuana is.
"I don't know when it's safe, nor can anybody tell me when it's safe, to return that employee [who has been prescribed medical marijuana] back to work which involves hazardous duty," Carter said. "That is very troubling to me as an employer, and I don't know how I can make the state law obligations under either one of these proposed amendments and abide by the federal requirements I have under OSHA to provide a hazard free workplace to my other employees." He said if medical marijuana becomes law, it is "bound to have an impact on my general liability rates" and worker compensation rates.
"As we continue to grow," Carter said, "and we look to decide whether we're going to employ people in Arkansas, or in Texas or in Louisiana, my concern as a lifelong Arkansan is this will provide tremendous economic incentive for me to employ Texans and other people who do not face this anti-discrimination protection for the use of medical marijuana."
Harvell said that his business involves heavy equipment and cranes, and that the introduction of employees prescribed medical marijuana would bring risk to not only that person but other employees. "One moment of inattention in our business can create a very serious accident or death," Harvell said.
Noting that AFCO has facilities in Arkansas and Colorado, Harvell said that in the past three years, their Colorado plant has seen a 300 percent increase in terminations due to drug use. In Arkansas, plants have seen a 57 percent reduction in terminations due to hot drug tests. He said legal advice has told them they can't implement their current drug testing under either of the new laws.
Rice said that allowing medical marijuana would not only make it harder to hire drivers into the "zero tolerance" industry, but would make highways less safe. Drivers traveling from Arkansas to states which don't have medical marijuana would be an additional issue.