COTTONWOOD -- A registered nurse, formerly employed by a private Cottonwood hospice, has filed a letter of demand over her alleged firing after she disclosed she was a card-carrying medical marijuana patient. Her attorney believes the matter could be the first-ever Arizona case challenging discrimination against a card member, if it goes to trial.
Esther Shapiro said she was a medical marijuana patient where she previously lived in Colorado. When she moved to Arizona in June, she qualified for a medical marijuana card after a doctor's examination. Shapiro says she was the victim of a hit-and-run accident in 1988 and suffered a compressed disc. Since then, she suffers from painful fibromyalgia and, more recently, neuropathy.
Shapiro was hired by Verde Valley Community Hospice as a registered nurse to visit and care for end-of-life patients in their homes. The RN had continued through her orientation until she was asked to provide a pre-employment urine drug test. That hit a snag when she advised they would see an indication of marijuana use, since she carries a medical marijuana card.
At that point, she says she was told they would have to investigate and questioned whether their insurance would cover the liability. She claims she was threatened with being reported to the Arizona Nursing Board on suspicion of substance abuse.
Shapiro said she was depending upon the job at the hospice. She says she is filing the claim as a "matter of integrity. I am not interested in beating people up, but people need to be educated."
Shapiro says she only uses medical marijuana "as needed at night." She has prescription medicine for pain during the day. She estimates she only medicates two to three times a week and when she has insomnia from the pain.
Shapiro has asked to increase her hours at a part-time position in Scottsdale. She is employed in a telephone education position for Scottsdale Health Dialogue. "They do not have a problem with the medical marijuana use," she affirms. She was simply told, 'Don't use it while working.'
Bill Hayes, who is a partner with Verde Valley Community Hospice, has a different story. He claims Shapiro was not fired, but was told the operation would "have to check with the Department of Health Services, the State Board of Nursing and see what ramifications it could have for us."
"Our position has always been to provide good care of our patients. We felt it was necessary to do due diligence to make sure our patients will be well cared for," said Hayes.
He claims that Shapiro gave the managing nurse a piece of paper and said, 'Here's my address where you can send my check' and left. He contends she "abandoned" the job.
Hayes says his operation has received a letter from Shapiro's lawyer, David Weissman, an employment law attorney with the Rose Law Group in Scottsdale.
Weissman is still researching the law and the case, but believes the Shapiro issue may be the first time the new Arizona statute was tested. "The statute prohibits discrimination of a card holder, or a card holder who tested positive for use of marijuana."
The statute does not protect those who are under the influence on a job, said Weissman.
While this is the only medical marijuana case Weissman is handling, a partner in the Rose Law Group, Ryan Hurley, has filed one of six legal actions against the state representing hopeful dispensaries.
The Department of Health Services has established 126 Community Health Analysis Area's to establish a dispensary in each. Most of the Verde Valley is in the Northeast Yavapai County CHAA, which, so far, has seen 239 applicants for a card. Sedona has a separate CHAA and there are 59 card-carrying patients there.
Esther Shapiro formerly operated a medical marijuana dispensary in Lakewood, a suburb of Denver. She was a partner with Sierra Neblina and both of their mothers.
But, she says, they closed that operation, frustrated by the conflicts with the bureaucracy and the customers.
At this point, the DHS has made available identity cards for medical marijuana patients. Marijuana may be grown by a qualified patient, if 25 miles from a dispensary.