Payson town employees cannot smoke pot at work and cannot show up stoned — even if they do have a medical marijuana card.
That’s the gist of a new personnel policy adopted by the town council last week.
However, Town Attorney Tim Wright said the town could face major complications in trying to enforce that policy, once people with a recommendation from a doctor can buy medical marijuana from licensed dispensaries — including, perhaps, one in Payson.
Several groups have appeared before the council to say they plan to apply for a state license to operate a medical dispensary in Payson and the town has adopted an ordinance restricting such dispensaries to certain commercial and industrial zones separated from houses, schools and other facilities.
The state Department of Health Services has said it will approve one dispensary somewhere in northern Gila County and at least one more in southern Gila County.
Last Thursday, the town adopted a new personnel policy that will regulate use of medical marijuana by town workers.
The complication arises from the lack of a clear-cut legal standard backed by some kind of lab test that would determine when someone was impaired by the use of marijuana.
“With marijuana, you don’t have the same clear cutoff” as you do with alcohol, said Wright.
Police officers will likely face similar problems in trying to determine whether a person with a medical marijuana card is impaired when operating a car, for instance.
Medical experts have linked changes in judgment and reaction time to certain levels of alcohol in the blood. No such clear standard exists for marijuana, which remains detectable in the system days after use.
Wright said the town will likely have to rely on “drug recognition experts” to determine whether an employee who has smoked qualifies as impaired.
The town policy will essentially treat marijuana like alcohol. Town workers cannot “possess, use, or be under the influence while they’re on the job,” said Wright. Moreover, police officers and firefighters can’t have any marijuana in their systems when they’re on the job, he said.
“When you say ‘employees not being impaired,’ that means none of us on staff,” said Councilor Ed Blair, trying to determine whether the policy will apply to council members.
“You’re elected officials,” said Wright. “You’re different.”
“We acknowledge that,” said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans, drawing a big laugh.
Wright noted that the use of medical marijuana remains a complicated issue, despite voter approval of the medical marijuana initiative. “Whatever you call marijuana, it is still a federal felony,” said Wright. “Arizona may say it’s OK, but federal law doesn’t say it’s OK.”