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Policy to ban marijuana for Little Rock airport staff

Proposal exempts workers from medical marijuana measure

All employees at the state's largest airport remain subject to a range of sanctions up to and including dismissal if they test positive for marijuana even if they qualify to use the drug under the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, as part of a proposed change to the airport's personnel policies.

The proposed change for employees at the state's largest airport comes in response to the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment. Approved by voters in the November general election and now known as Amendment 98 to the Arkansas Constitution, it allows doctors to recommend marijuana for patients suffering from specific medical conditions.

If the policy is adopted, all employees at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field will be considered exempt from using marijuana under the amendment because they are working in what airport officials deem "safety-sensitive" jobs under a new state law, Act 593 of 2017.

The law, which defines roles for employers and patients who use medical marijuana, modified the voter-approved amendment to provide that "safety-sensitive" positions should receive increased scrutiny by employers.

[INTERACTIVE MAP: Click here for a look at how laws related to marijuana have evolved over the past two decades.]

"Safety-sensitive" positions are jobs "designated in writing by an employer as a safety sensitive position in which a person performing the position while under the influence of marijuana may constitute a threat to health or safety," according to the law.

Under the law, any employee who is a medical marijuana patient -- regardless of whether he or she is under the influence on the job -- can be monitored, reassigned, put on leave, fired or be asked to complete a substance abuse program.

The sponsor of Act 593, state Rep. Carlton Wing, R-Sherwood, said the proposed policy for airport employees "gets at the difficulties associated with the Medical Marijuana Amendment."

"At an airport, a lot of people are counting on a safe environment," he said. "It's not just for the customers but for their fellow employees as well. They need to have the expectation that when they get up to go to work in the morning, they will come home that night."

At Clinton National, all employees are deemed to be working in a "safety-sensitive" position -- even custodial and clerical staff -- because they carry badges that allow them access to the aeronautical side of the airport, which includes the runways, taxiways, ramps and other parts of the airfield where aircraft are active, said Ron Mathieu, the airport's executive director.

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He made the comments Wednesday after the personnel committee of the Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission recommended the commission adopt the proposed policy at its regular monthly meeting Tuesday.

"It applies to everyone because everyone has an opportunity because of their level of security to go out to the airfield," Mathieu said. "If you have access to the airfield and you can be out there, you are in a 'safety-sensitive' position."

Clinton National employs about 150 people. The policy won't apply to employees of various airlines at the airport or their contractors.

Mathieu said some airports provide different levels of access to their employees. The airport used to have a similar badge system. It now has two levels of badges, but both can allow access to the airfield, he said.

"That fact that you may not have access today, but conditions may change and we will give you access," he said. "But the fact that you have a badge gives you the ability to do it."

The airport issues badges to all employees because its staffing level is small enough to where "if we have an issue, that we can have all hands be involved," Mathieu said. "Everyone is trained and has the ability to access the airfield."

Metro on 09/14/2017

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