|Businesses Not High on Prop. 19|
WORKPLACE: Pot legalization causes jitters for management.
By Jessica Selva
Monday, September 27, 2010
Some business leaders and groups are taking a stand against Proposition 19 which would legalize marijuana for recreational use, saying the state ballot measure could lead to high workers, new demands by cannabis smokers and potential financial losses to businesses.
The California Chamber of Commerce, or CalChamber, released a report last month that has raised alarm in the business community. The chamber’s legal analysis of the proposition argued that vagueness in its language could lead to various negative outcomes.
Those outcomes could include, the chamber said, higher levels of workplace accidents,
which could ramp up workers’ compensation costs; the inability of employers to use positive marijuana drug test results to make employment and other workplace decisions; and the possibility that businesses could lose federal grants and contracts for not aligning with federal law, which considers marijuana an illegal drug.
The chamber also says the language of the proposition could even give workers the right to demand certain accommodations for medical use, such as the right to smoke marijuana at work in designated areas or the right to take more breaks for consumption of the drug.
The analysis was performed in recent months by the chamber’s team of in-house labor and employment legal employment experts over the past couple of months, said Erika Frank, the chamber’s general counsel.
The legal analysis has concerned Douglas Morton, senior vice president of corporate development at Bobrick Washroom Equipment, Inc., a
manufacturing company based in North Hollywood. Morton is also a board member of the Valley Industry & Commerce Association, or VICA.
“The primary safety concern would be in manufacturing. We are using machinery and we are using vehicles,” Morton said, adding that if the measure passes, a positive result for marijuana on a drug test would no longer be enough to prove fault by the employee.
“The concern, as indicated by CalChamber, is this is going to put a much larger burden on us to prove actual impairment, and we are concerned that the general safety of our workplace will decline depending on how the courts in California will interpret this law,” he added.
Morton was disappointed when VICA’s board of directors recently decided to remain neutral on the issue, he said.
“We came down to it not being enough of a business issue, in our opinion,” said Greg Lippe, co-chair of VICA’s
government affairs committee.
Lippe said that while supporters of Proposition 19 say passage of the ballot measure would benefit the state through tax revenues and opponents say its passage would lead to workplace chaos, the extents of both outcomes appeared to be uncertain.
“There wasn’t clear evidence to us that it was definitely going to be either,” Lippe said.
The chamber’s report stated that businesses could be subject to demands for on-site smoking because of a lack of definition of a “non-public place,” where marijuana consumption would be allowed if the measure passed. The chamber also referred to wording that indicates that no person can be discriminated against or denied any “right or privilege” to lawfully engage in conduct permitted by the act, leading to the group’s conclusion that businesses will not be able to use drug tests in the same way they do now and will have to concede to the needs of medical
cannabis smokers. The chamber also pointed out several other terms and phrases it determined ambiguous.
For Lippe, the evidential ties were not strong enough.
“I think the laws exist that would allow you to protect your workplace, but others are concerned that maybe there isn’t adequate protection,” he said.
On front burner
Brendan Huffman, executive director for the Chambers of Commerce Alliance of Ventura & Santa Barbara Counties, said he is seeing more chambers starting to respond to the proposition, which he calls a major business issue.
“I think most of the business groups were ignoring Prop 19 until recently,” he said, adding that CalChamber’s report has created more awareness about the issue. “Chambers and business groups are taking a second look.”
Chambers of Commerce Alliance of Ventura & Santa Barbara counties, Moorpark Chamber of Commerce and Los Angeles Area Chamber of
Commerce are among chambers in the region that have officially opposed the proposition.
Other chambers, such as the Greater San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Woodland Hills-Tarzana Chamber of Commerce, plan to discuss the issue in future meetings.
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