Marijuana

Hospital Policy Lets Employees Use Medical Pot After New Times Story and Lawsuit

Timothy Costello, an ER nurse for Valleywise Health, sued the hospital in February to be able to use medical marijuana during his off hours.
Timothy Costello, an ER nurse for Valleywise Health, sued the hospital in February to be able to use medical marijuana during his off hours. Ali Swenson
The local hospital system Valleywise Health has issued a new drug policy that allows employees to use medical marijuana, just weeks after one of its nurses sued his employer for the right to use a medical card.

It's unclear how long the hospital's written policies have allowed employees to use medical cannabis. Requests for access to old policies weren't fulfilled by press time. But just a couple of months ago, nurse Timothy Costello, a Valleywise Health employee, was told by supervisors that using medical marijuana could result in his termination — and he sued because of it. The new policy revised in February would likely make that lawsuit moot.

Phoenix New Times first wrote about Costello in January, when the Maryvale ER nurse learned that using the medical marijuana card he'd gotten for his severe back pain and trouble sleeping could threaten his job.

The 42-year-old military veteran and nurse at Maryvale's Valleywise Medical Center had opted to be up front with his employer, telling his boss when he decided to switch from prescription medications to cannabis for his ailments. But when he did, the hospital said that if he tested positive for cannabis in his system — even with a legal card and even if he never used cannabis during work hours — he’d be fired.

Costello asked for more information, and went to the state nursing board for advice, but heard nothing. Afraid to risk his job as a medical marijuana patient, but not wanting to use prescription drugs any longer, he was stuck. In early February, he decided to sue.

Three weeks later, according to Costello's lawyer, Joshua Carden, Valleywise Health shared a written policy that allows medical marijuana use in accordance with Arizona law.

According to the employee drug policy, reproduced below, "'Illegal drugs' do not include cannabinoids/marijuana to the extent permitted under Title 36 of the Arizona Revised Statutes Chapter 28.1, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act."

The policy appears to have been updated in February 2020, around the time Costello and his lawyer filed the lawsuit. Before that, it was most recently updated in March 2018, but New Times wasn't able to get a copy of the old policy by press time.

Carden said the hospital system's new policy is "easily the best" one he's seen on medical marijuana in the workplace in Arizona.

"If that is their actual policy, that policy should be emulated, not litigated," Carden said. "Absolutely, I don’t want to challenge this policy. What I wanted to challenge was what appeared to be the policy."

Michael Murphy, a spokesperson for Valleywise Health, confirmed that the policy shared with Carden appears to be current. He added that he couldn't comment on ongoing litigation.

Carden said once he gets word from Costello, he will likely terminate the lawsuit. Costello, for his part, is waiting for Carden to approve the hospital policy.

"I would drop the lawsuit," he said. "I will be happy to end this."

Costello said he was proud to have made a difference in his workplace by standing up for what he believed in.

"If one person speaks up, people will usually follow," he said. "That is pretty much how this country was built."

Costello hasn't used his medical marijuana card yet, but he said he will once he gets the okay from his lawyer.

Valleywise Health's new policy, updated in February 2020, can be read below:

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ali Swenson was an editorial fellow for Phoenix New Times starting in 2019.