Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin and four business leaders spoke out Wednesday against two proposals that would legalize marijuana use by those with certain medical conditions.
Griffin, speaking at a news conference at the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce in Little Rock, said legalizing marijuana will not only negatively affect public safety, but also the quality of products made in Arkansas.
He said the state is continuing to compete for good-paying and sustainable jobs that are attracted by a skilled, focused and alert workforce.
Griffin said that if voters approve either proposal, Arkansas would lose its competitive advantage over other states where companies have trouble hiring because they can’t find enough people who can pass drug tests.
He added employers want to pursue excellence and “you can pursue excellence better drug free.”
Hutchinson, a former administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said the marijuana proposals would create potential for abuse by those without medical ailments who could obtain the drug more easily if it’s legal for medical use.
Both proposals, which voters might face on the November ballot, have been challenged in court. On Tuesday, a retired Arkansas judge appointed by the state Supreme Court ruled in one of the challenges, saying more than enough valid signatures were submitted for one of the proposals.
Employee Safety, Hiring Issues
Joe Carter, CEO of asbestos abatement company Snyder Environmental Inc. in North Little Rock, said he’s concerned about legalization increasing the liability insurance premiums businesses pay and the cost of workers’ compensation, as well as negatively effects on employee safety.
He also said the proposal also includes an anti-discrimination clause that would prevent him from firing employees who test positive for marijuana.
“This is going to provide a tremendous amount of economic incentive for me to employ Texans and other people who do not have this anti-discrimination protection for the use of medical marijuana,” Carter said.
Grady Harvel, president and COO of AFCO Steel Inc. of Little Rock, said his company had experienced a 300 percent increase in terminations for failed drug tests in Colorado since that state legalized marijuana for both recreational and medical use.
The company also has a facility in Van Buren.
Harvel said AFCO conducts pre-employment and random drug screenings because its workers use heavy equipment to lift large pieces of steel every day.
“One moment of inattention in our building could create a very serious accident or death,” he said.
Harvel said the drug screenings keep all AFCO employees safe, but legal advisers have told the company it could not implement its drug policies in their current form if voters approve the proposal.
Doug Wasson, president and CEO of Kinco Constructors in Little Rock, said his company conducts pre-employment, random and post-absence drug screenings and would not be able to continue its policy if medical marijuana is legalized in Arkansas.
He said the proposals pose a threat to public safety because Kinco’s employees, and others in the construction industry, affect every aspect of people’s lives by working on hospitals, schools, roads, water lines and more.
Butch Rice, president and CEO of Stallion Transportation Group in Beebe, said his industry already faces a shortage of qualified drivers and legalizing marijuana would make the situation worse. The industry has a zero-tolerance policy for drug use, as drivers cross state lines and must be safe while on the road.
He added that he was concerned about non-commercial drivers under the influence of marijuana causing accidents that involve truck drivers, who would then be working in an unsafe environment.
Rice is also chairman of the Arkansas Trucking Association Board, which announced on Wednesday its opposition to both medical marijuana proposals because it believes passage of either would reduce the pool of qualified job candidates and result in unintended legal and safety consequences for businesses and the public.
No Use On the Job
David Couch, spokesman for the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, told Arkansas Business that his proposal specifically prohibits the use of medical marijuana while someone is on the job.
He said marijuana would be treated the same as other medicines, such as Oxycontin, in that regard.
Couch added that he was surprised by the opposition of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. He said legalization could bring thousands of new jobs to the state and sales of marijuana are expected to have a nationwide economic impact of $44 billion by 2020 if current trends continue.
Ryan Denham, the deputy director for the other medical marijuana campaign, Arkansans for Compassionate Care, told The Associated Press that fears about workforce problems hasn’t been a problem in the 25 states that have legalized medical marijuana.
“They don’t have these types of societal or workforce problems, and largely it’s been a net positive for the state economies,” Denham told reporters.