BERNALILLO — The Sandoval County Commission has delayed a decision on updated cannabis-free workplace policies.
At their meeting Thursday evening, commissioners voted 4-1 to postpone the decision until their Aug. 19 meeting to give staff time to research whether any governmental entities had lost federal funding over failing to have a zero-tolerance marijuana policy. Commissioner Michael Meek cast the dissenting vote.
In May, commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with the policy by notifying unions of the possible changes. The rules would prohibit employees from having cannabis, including cannabidoil, in their systems at work, even with a medical marijuana card.
Thursday, County Manager Wayne Johnson said the updated policy was necessary to comply with federal law and protect the county’s federal grants, now that New Mexico has legalized recreational marijuana. Cannabis remains illegal under federal law.
“Sandoval County has always been a drug-free workplace,” said County Attorney Robin Hammer, adding that the policy update confirms that status.
Johnson said all controlled drugs and alcohol are forbidden for employees on county business or in county facilities. Employees prescribed drugs that cause impairment can’t use them while working if there’s a safety concern.
He said the difference is that cannabis can stay in the body for 30-plus days, unlike many other substances.
“But realize that we are treating this (cannabis) exactly the same as any other medicine or drug at Sandoval County,” Johnson said.
Commissioners Katherine Bruch, Jay Block and Kenneth Eichwald said they were concerned about banning medical marijuana.
“I don’t think we should pass a blanket no-drug policy on this,” Eichwald said, specifically mentioning hiring veterans who might use medical marijuana for post-traumatic stress disorder. “… There are some people who need this to be able to function.”
As a judge for 24 years, he said he never saw someone in his courtroom over accusations of committing violence while under the influence of marijuana.
Bruch said she wanted to comply with federal law and have a drug-free workplace, but some people need certain medications.
Meek said doctors don’t prescribe cannabis, but rather certify that patients have a condition qualifying them for a medical cannabis card. Then, if the state accepts a patient into the medical marijuana program, the person uses cannabis without further guidance on dosage or frequency, he said.
Meek said he thought the county needed to have the cannabis ban until the federal government legalized marijuana.
Bruch and Block questioned whether any state or local government had lost federal grants over not banning marijuana among employees.
“You see states that thumb their nose at federal law on many issues,” Block said.
In other business, commissioners:
• Moved their July 1 meeting to July 29.
• Ratified an agreement with the New Mexico Public Education Department in which the county receives almost $71,000 for its summer internship program.
• Approved an agreement with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees on behalf of Sandoval County Detention Center workers. Johnson said the agreement was similar to what other employee groups had, including a 2 percent pay raise.
• Approved a zone change for about 500 acres to allow PNM to move forward with an effort to build a solar energy facility there. Laurie Moye, agent for PNM, said it would be a 50-megawatt facility, and 1 megawatt could typically support 800 homes. So, the proposed facility could power 40,000 typical homes.
• Approved a $217,000 contract with Verizon to provide service for more than 350 county cell phones.
• Approved an amendment to a 2016 economic development agreement with Interfaith Leap LLC in Peña Blanca. Under the agreement, Interfaith Leap must maintain three jobs for at least two years at its newly remodeled commercial kitchen. The county acts as fiscal agent but doesn’t contribute money.
• Applauded Block’s use of $15,000 in commissioner discretionary funds to buy a new working dog and its training and equipment for Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office. A current dog, Candice, will go to the jail. Block will be allowed to name the new dog Titan.