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With Medical Marijuana, Businesses Will Need To Change Drug-Testing Policies

Allen L. Hutson is an attorney with Crowe & Dunlevy law firm in Oklahoma City.
Emmy Verdin
Journal Record
Allen L. Hutson is an attorney with Crowe & Dunlevy law firm in Oklahoma City.

Attorneys in Oklahoma are telling business-owning clients that they should adapt their drug-testing policies now that the state has adopted medical marijuana.

The Journal Record reports State Question 788 provides anti-discrimination protections for patients with medical marijuana cards, though there are some exceptions.


Jacob McCleland: You're listening to the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I'm Jacob McCleland. I'm talking with Journal Record editor Russell Ray. Russell, thank you for joining us.

Russell Ray: Thank you, Jacob. It's good to be here.

McCleland: Oklahoma now has medical marijuana and one of the offshoots of medical marijuana legalization is employee drug testing. The Journal Record's Brian Brus wrote a story about how attorneys are advising their business-owning clients on that matter. What are they telling employees they should do about marijuana drug testing now?

Ray: One is that employers cannot discipline or fire employees based only on a positive drug test. But employers still have a duty to provide for a safe workplace obviously. In short, employees must behave while they're still on the job. And employers should also know that State Question 788 includes several provisions prohibiting employers from discriminating against those who have a medical marijuana license.

McCleland: Well we'll get back to those provisions on discrimination here in just a minute. But first, what are the numbers that we have right now for license applications?

Ray: Well as of mid-November, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority said it has received nearly 19,000 applications for patients, 160 applications for caregivers and 2,300 for businesses. The vast majority of those applications were approved. And as of December 1st the state had collected $7.8 million in licensing fees. And so that says a lot about the potential economic impact medical cannabis could have on the state.

McCleland: The state question that legalized medical marijuana contains some antidiscrimination protections as you mentioned earlier. But there are some exceptions. How does this all work?

Ray: Well that's right. The law is very clear that workers with a valid license can't be disciplined or fired solely on the basis of a positive drug test. But it doesn't mean employers can't or shouldn't drug test employees if they're demonstrating signs of impairment. Employers can still be held liable for injuries, accidents and workplace mishaps. In fact employers can refuse to hire or terminate workers in cases where they could lose money or licensing benefits under federal rules and regulations.

McCleland: I want to talk now about another recent story by Brian Brus. This one is about the potential for a bus rapid transit system in Oklahoma City. Mayor David Holt announced last week that the city received a $14.3 million federal grant to develop bus rapid transit. First what are we talking about here? What is bus rapid transit, or BRT?

Ray: Well the nature of a BRT system is similar to a dedicated rail for mass transit. It would be able to handle more passengers and offer a more reliable schedule for passengers. It does that by having priority over other vehicles and normal traffic flow. Other cities accomplish this with a dedicated bus lane or by synchronizing traffic signals for buses.

McCleland: What are some ways to maximize the benefits of BRT?

Ray: Well some of the things that should come with a BRT system include parking lots and terminals where people feel safe and comfortable leaving their cars for an entire day. Also such systems should interconnect with the city's existing bus lines to meet its full potential. That would of course require some adjustments to current bus routes and some are even asking if the system should incorporate concession stands and other similar elements to maximize its use.

McCleland: What's the timeline for getting this in place?

Ray: Well an environmental impact study will be conducted and that process will take us through 2021. Construction would begin after that and full service is expected to begin by 2023.

McCleland: Now besides the federal grants, who else is providing funding for this program?

Ray: The grant will receive matching funds from the city, $10.8 million in bond debt and $2.2 million in sales tax proceeds which have already been approved by voters.

McCleland: Russell Ray is the editor of The Journal Record newspaper. Russell thank you for your time.

Ray: My pleasure, Jacob. Thank you.

McCleland: KGOU and the Journal Record collaborate each week on The Business Intelligence Report. You can follow us on social media or on Facebook and Twitter, @journalrecord and @kgounews. The Business Intelligence Report is also available on our website at kgou.org.

The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.

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Music provided by Midday Static.

Jacob McCleland spent nine years as a reporter and host at public radio station KRCU in Cape Girardeau, Mo. His stories have appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Here & Now, Harvest Public Media and PRI’s The World. Jacob has reported on floods, disappearing languages, crop duster pilots, anvil shooters, Manuel Noriega, mule jumps and more.
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