LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The state’s governor and lieutenant governor said Wednesday that legalizing Arkansas medical marijuana would hurt efforts to keep and attract businesses, as the two Republicans targeted a pair of ballot measures that they contend would prevent companies from maintaining drug-free workplaces.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin were joined by business leaders as they criticized the competing proposals to allow patients with certain medical conditions and a doctor’s recommendation to buy marijuana from dispensaries. Arkansas voters narrowly rejected legalizing medical marijuana four years ago.
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“It will not help us in the direction we need to go in Arkansas in terms of increased economic success in this state,” Hutchinson, a former head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, said at a news conference at the state Chamber of Commerce.
Neither measure would prevent employers from conducting drug tests or firing workers for being impaired, and Hutchinson didn’t cite examples of companies that wouldn’t move to Arkansas if the legalization measures were to pass. Supporters of both proposals have also argued that their passage would be an economic boon for the state, through jobs created at the dispensaries and related businesses such as lighting and security.
Hutchinson, Griffin and several executives cited a provision in both measures that would prohibit companies from basing hiring or firing decisions on whether someone is a qualified medical marijuana patient. Neither proposal, though, would require employers to accommodate workers using medical marijuana at the workplace or working while under the drug’s influence.
Ryan Denham, the deputy director for one of the medical marijuana campaigns, Arkansans for Compassionate Care, said the 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.
Griffin said the proposals would hurt Arkansas’ competitive edge in attracting companies, especially for high-skilled jobs, that drug test employees.
“The governor can’t continue to lead the way he has, getting employers interested in Arkansas, if, when they get here, we say, ‘well, the only thing we forgot to tell you is we don’t have enough workers who can pass your drug test,'” Griffin said. “That’s a no-go, folks.”
Joe Carter, chief executive of Snyder Environmental in North Little Rock, said he was also concerned that the measures could lead to higher liability insurance rates and workers compensation costs for his business and others.
“My concern as a livelong Arkansans is this will provide tremendous economic incentives to employ Texans and other people who do not face this anti-discrimination protection for the use of medical marijuana,” Carter said.
The criticism is part of a stepped-up campaign led by Hutchinson against the proposals, which also are fending off attempts before the state Supreme Court to block them from the ballot. Hutchinson in recent weeks has lined up some of the state’s top doctors against the proposals, and has also said he’s worried about the regulatory and enforcement costs to the state if either measure is approved.
Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at @ademillo