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Will medical marijuana mean more workers' comp claims?

Arizona's relatively new law allowing its residents to use medical marijuana has some employers at odds with their employees. Arizona's medical marijuana law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who legally smoke marijuana; however, business owners are still concerned about the potential liabilities they face should one of their employees injure themselves or others while under the influence of the drug. In fact, at the urging of business owners and other groups, Arizona law now allows employers to respond more forcefully when they discover an employee under the influence of marijuana while at work.

How medical marijuana will affect Arizona's workers' compensation system remains to be seen. Marijuana can, among other things, cause both a loss of coordination and shakiness, both potentially dangerous conditions in certain occupations.

However, Arizona's worker's compensation system is no-fault, meaning that an employee may get workers' compensation benefits even for injuries that were either the employee's own fault or a complete accident. Perhaps employers who show some resistance to medical marijuana fear an increase in workplace injuries, and, ultimately, higher premiums for workers' compensation insurance.

On the other hand, Arizona law presently allows employees to use marijuana for medicinal purposes without having to fear an employer's retaliation. Until such time as the law changes, an employer may simply have to take all lawful safety measures to prevent employees who take medicinal marijuana -- or any potent prescription medicine, for that matter -- from encountering a dangerous workplace condition that may injure them. This could encourage employers to make sure that they are up to date on all safety standards.

Source: The Republic, "Medical pot tests boss-worker relations," Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, Aug. 26, 2012

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