April 1, 2010

The Risk of a Recreational Medicine

Justin Katz

My ambivalence about legalizing marijuana carries into this legal development, but I post it mainly as an interesting civic conundrum:

Tens of thousands of Californians are obtaining medical marijuana recommendations from physicians so they can use pot without fear of arrest.

But they still can lose their jobs.

California's Proposition 215, passed by voters in 1996, approved the use of marijuana for a wide range of ailments. But it doesn't require employers to make accommodations or waive any workplace rules for legal cannabis users.

On one hand, if employers feel that use of a particular substance, even outside of work, represents a potential risk of any kind, they ought to be able to continue testing for it. Employees are free not to work there, to take the initiative to compete in the market, or to attempt to affect the business by influencing its customers. On the other hand, although I always found (more than a decade ago) that pot does affect one's mental alertness even after its effects have worn off, but then, so does alcohol.

Whichever way the coin falls, though, I hope that this remains a state-by-state issue.

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Typical authoritarian viewpoint. I cannot for the life of me understand conservatives talking about personal freedom being such a big thing, and then being proud that Petsmart tests the person who will help me choose my dog food. It does not make sense.

Justin, your opinion is formed by the idea that a job is enslavement - that your employers owns you 24/7 for all time as long as you accept a paycheck.

That is a false premise.

What you do off the job is your own business, unless it can be proven without a doubt that it affects your on-job performance.

Once again you are acting exactly like the Straw Men you so like to stand up and criticize. I have a perfect example for you - in my former town, the GOP town fathers decided to institute a new rule, banning smoking cigarettes for fire and police. Mind you, this was not just while on the job - they wanted to make certain that no person who was a smoker could be in those jobs!

That sounds like something you could get behind - after all, the town fathers were their employers!

Luckily, we "liberals" fought this hard and the authoritarian leaders finally understood that they had crossed the line.

When politicians are drug tested 24/7 and teacher too, then get back to us. But until then, dumping on those who are less powerful is just so.......well, I'll let you assign your own name to this. Suffice it to say that most drug testing does not extend to the board room.

Posted by: Stuart at April 1, 2010 11:24 AM

Hey Stu...

Sorry, but your liberal rage about 24/7 lifestyle control doesn't wash with police and fire personnel. When a state law exists that automatically makes a pulminary or resperatory ailment a "work related disability", the employer MUST BE ALLOWED the right to control that persons lifestyle in order to prevent them from obtaining a work related (taxpayer subsidized) benefit due to their willfully harming their body. THe same rules should be applied regarding BMI for police and fire too.

Posted by: John at April 1, 2010 12:15 PM

John, your comment reflect the black and white world that so many of my conservative friends admit exists.

The questions, as always, are in shades of gray.

For instance, if one fireman smokes off the job, but another lives in a poor neighborhood with a freeway and power plant nearby (greatly worsening his health due to bad air), which one should be fired?

BMI or physical tests are obviously relevant - a cop or fire fighter must be able to prove their physical condition to at least a minimum standard for doing the job.

So, what are you actually saying? Do you support the right of a town to state that folks cannot drink, smoke or engage in risky sexual behaviors when they are not at work? Even if legal?

Can they eat ice cream? That is willfully hurting your body. Those Burger King things and wings are even worse!

It sounds to me like the almighty buck has won over human beings. As it is, we make people get right back to work after having babies - while it would benefit everyone (except the $$) for them to stay home more with their children (dads as well as moms). To what point do you think people are machines and on the end what freedoms do you allow them?

I think the proof is in the pudding. The productivity of American workers has been going up, up, up, and that should be enough for their corporate masters...hands off my head.

Oh, I see! I should be free - but NOT if I have to work for a living. Convenient.

For the record, I have not enjoyed a joint since about 38 years ago, so I am in no way excusing adults who like to drink or smoke too much. I also don't smoke cigarettes or cigars nor drink.

But I also don't eat fattening meat either. All my choice, not the choice of someone who happens to make money off the sweat of my brow. If I enjoyed a 6-pack each night (as you know MANY people start with), I would drink it....and bear the consequences of the pot belly and shorter life.

Posted by: Stuart at April 1, 2010 1:04 PM

I thought conservatism was supposed to be about keeping government OFF your back. I might be one if that actually were the cqse.
I don't smoke, and don't want smoking in public places, but damn, if we're taking away somebody's job because he likes to light up the occasional Camel at home, we're sliding close to Saddam or Admidinejad territory here.
I'm more worried about cops on the take or catching on-duty hummer than cops sparking up an off-duty Newport.

Posted by: rhody at April 1, 2010 2:14 PM

Seems to me that this legal situation IS about keeping the government off the citizen's back - in this case, the aggrieved citizen is the employer, not the employee.

The problem is that marijuana has side effects beyond pain relief and nausea suppression. Suppose the medical marijuana user is high while working in a job that requires driving, operating dangerous machinery, complex mechanical work (I'd hate to forget to properly torque the head bolts in an engine rebuild) or customer interface in a way that puts the employer at risk? The employer needs the freedom to keep his business safe and his customers happy without government interference.

What I'm sure the Left would like to see is a law forcing employers to keep the user on the job or pay full compensation even in the event he could not do the job safely or properly any longer. But in that case, they would be advocating even more government heavy-handedness on the backs of citizens, which invalidates the arguments made in the comment above.

Posted by: BobN at April 1, 2010 3:07 PM

The problem BobN is the specifics of this case. The same affects you listed could come as a result of taking medication prescribed by a physician for pain or even depression. We are not talking about PERSONAL drug use, we are talking about doctor prescribed medical treatment in accordance with state law. To assume someone while at work high on marijuana prescribed to him is more of a liability than someone taking Oxycontin or Adderol is foolish. This issue is not about personal conduct or drug use, its about employers disregarding state law to suit its own purpose. If the same company fired someone for testing positive for amphetamine (due to taking Adderol or Dexedrine for medical reasons with a prescription), would that also be legal? What about other drugs whose side effects include drowsiness, lack of concentration, or other physical results? Can we fire employees for taking those as well? Would the employer even test if the federal govt wasnt involved in singling out drugs for prohibition or getting in the way of state law? I singled out BobN in my comment, but his was one of the more rational on this post. Stuart attempts to someone make this about everyday drug use and spin a tale against conservatives. The matter is not whether you support drug use or the results, it is if you believe citizens of a given state have the right to medical treatments sanctioned and approved of by state law and medical professionals.

Posted by: steadman at April 1, 2010 3:46 PM

According to CDC, in 2005 there were 118 million prescriptions for anti-despressants. FDA published these possible side effects for one of the most common - Prozac:

Serotonin Syndrome: This is a condition that can be life threatening. Call your doctor right away if you become severely ill and have some or all of these symptoms:

• agitation
• hallucinations
• problems with coordination
• racing heart beat
• over-active reflexes
• fever
• nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea

Severe allergic reactions: Tell your doctor right away if you get red itchy welts (hives) or, a rash alone or with fever and joint pain, while taking PROZAC. Call your doctor right away if you become severely ill and have some or all of these symptoms:

• swelling of your face, eyes, or mouth
• trouble breathing
• Abnormal bleeding: Tell your doctor if you notice any increased or unusual bruising or bleeding, especially if you take one of these medicines:
• the blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven)
• a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)
• aspirin
• Mania: You may have a high mood, become extremely irritable, have too much energy, feel pressure to keep talking, or have a decreased need for sleep.
• Seizures
• Loss of appetite

Low salt (sodium) levels in the blood (hyponatremia): Call your doctor right away if you become severely ill and have some or all of these symptoms:

• headache
• feel weak
• confusion
• problems concentrating
• memory problems
• feel unsteady

Common possible side effects include: abnormal dreams, orgasm problems, decreased appetite, anxiety, weakness, diarrhea, dry mouth, indigestion, flu, difficulty maintaining an erection for sexual activity, trouble sleeping, decreased sex drive, feeling sick to your stomach, nervousness, sore throat, rash, watery nasal discharge, sleepiness, sweating, tremor (shakes), hot flashes, and yawn. Tell your doctor about any side effect that bothers you or that does not go away.
These are not *all* the possible side effects with PROZAC.

118m with these potential side effects in jobs, working on machinery, spending $200 per refill.

Posted by: Robert Balliot at April 1, 2010 4:08 PM

Ah, Robert, but you see....

if the drugs are profitable to those same corporate masters - and if they allow us to cover up the stress and anxiety of not having a better life (often tied to working conditions and stress), then they are GOOD DRUGS.

If, on the other hand, they open our minds to the universal truths, they provide rest and relaxation, and they make us feel GOOD NOW, they are BAD DRUGS.

Also, consider the view of both the church and most government. They want people to suffer and slave and work hard NOW for a hamburger on Tuesday (later). The LAST thing they want is for people to be content - that would destroy the nagging pain to buy something which we call consumer culture. That is a religion in itself, which has many more converts than Christianity.

So, the government and the pope know better. They know how I should feel. They have the right to monitor by bodily fluids to make certain I never was feeling good.

Well, at least it's good to fully understand these authoritarians. Unfortunately, as the recent votes in MA and other states have shown, you are the minority, And in Ca. and other places, those formerly "moral" politicians will quickly change their minds (as they do with gambling) when $$$ is shoved into their pockets. Ah, isn't capitalism grand?

Posted by: Stuart at April 1, 2010 4:59 PM

If you're taking a drug that impairs cognition,you shouldn't drive or be armed.
Is that too hard to understand?
I guess you also should refrain from operating potentially hazardous machinery.
There are no politics to this.

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 1, 2010 9:16 PM


I agree. Zero tolerance policies keep military and public safety employees safe. Drug testing is the best way to enforce zero tolerance and prevent harm to people and expensive taxpayer funded equipment. There is no good reason to prevent private companies from protecting their employees and assets from dangers of the same nature.

I wish more people could see the footage of the USS Forestall disaster that I saw when in the Navy. The horrific explosions, fire and deaths that resulted from sailors, high on drugs, loading weapons on aircraft lead to the Navy's zero tolerance and random urinalysis program. I participated without reservation. If you have nothing to hide, it's just like donating urine to your doctor at your annual physical.

Posted by: George at April 1, 2010 11:29 PM

The objection that other prescription drug have side effects ignores the comparative severity of intoxication by marijuana. (DAMHIKT) If taking a particular drug renders a person unfit for a particular job, why should the government put the burden on the employer as though it were his fault? (There's that heavy hand of government again - I thought you free-thinkers said you want to get government off our backs?)

Viewed more broadly, incumbency in a specific job does not grant anyone a "right" to continue in that job, or in that pay grade, for life at the employer's expense, to be enforced by government regulation. Do the Leftists not agree?

Posted by: BobN at April 2, 2010 7:45 AM

The Golden Rule applies here.

Politicians, who control police forces, the national guard, weapons, money and laws - do they take drug tests?

Are we now to think that the Petsmart employee should be subject to a drug screening but the Major or Teacher should not?

Why not?

If there is one thing that represents freedom, it is the equal treatment of people. This drug test thing often fails that test. It is often foisted upon the lowest level of employees, while the big shots don't have to do it.

I'd love to hear why teachers and school administrators, who watch hundreds of young kids, should not be tested, and yet Petsmart employees should.

As to impairment, I am fine with such tests for pilots and many other such trades. However, there is a point where individual responsibility and statistics must be used...instead of control. Example - it has been proven that loud radio, heated arguments, looking at the heater controls and other such actions in moving cars are often WORSE than driving slightly drunk. So, should we remove radios from cars, build partitions inside to stop distractions, and make all controls non-functional while the car is in motion?

Of course not! You will probably come to the same conclusion I do - that there are things you can regulate and things that go too far.

BTW, I have heard a number of stories of people beating drug tests. There is a whole industry behind it, including fake penises and warmed up clean urine which passes through them.

For a real accurate drug test, you have to have a witness watch carefully and closely, something which is a little different than giving your doc a sample. Many would say it was dehumanizing.

They do have accurate hair and sweat tests. In fact, a friend of mine is not involved in a world class hair testing lab - they can check athletes to see if they had a couple drinks 6 months ago! Scary.

Posted by: Stuart at April 2, 2010 10:04 PM

As if to show us on que, see this story from today!

"Pilots taking antidepressants will be permitted to fly after U.S. regulators dropped a decades-old ban on four drugs.

Risks from side effects such as drowsiness are associated with the medications....."

Hmmmmm..........what say the absolutists? I say I told you so. It's all about power and money.

Now watch what happens when a pilot gets suicidal thoughts.....another side effect of many of these medicines. Oh, they also make you drink more (no kidding).

Posted by: Stuart at April 3, 2010 12:00 AM
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