Marijuana: Medicinal Use and the Workplace

17 Nov 2016

As of the election on November 8, 2016 more states have passed medical marijuana laws and recreational marijuana laws.

What is marijuana and what is contained in the marijuana plant?  The Cannabis aativa plant contains several different cannabinoids including the Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol.  There are approximately 120 compounds that are responsible for the characteristic aroma.

Where did the use of cannabis originate?  It started on the steppes of Central Asia many thousands of years ago. This according to Barney Warf (Professor of Geography, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS) and spread from there to all the regions of the world.  Barney Warf said as an example the ancient Germans and Vikings used cannabis for relieving pain during childbirth and for toothaches.  It is noted that it is only recently that marijuana has been noted as being evil.

What is it about the marijuana plant that is considered evil?  The primary factor would be that it is a psychoactive plant that causes hallucinogens. What is a hallucinogen should be asked?  A hallucinogen is a psychoactive agent which can cause hallucinations, perceptual anomalies, and other substantial subjective changes in thoughts, emotion, and consciousness. 

In the transportation industry, it is the perceptual anomalies that raises the most concern. Perceptual anomaly is the distortion of conscious awareness or the distorted sense of reality. In other words, a person’s motor skills are not as effective as they would be when not using marijuana.  This is of concern not only in the transportation industry but in other occupations and driving a motor vehicle in everyday life.

The big question right now is - are there medicinal properties in the Cannabis plant. There are many anecdotal reports that state and explain the medicinal effects of marijuana.  Even the Institute of Medicine 1999 report on marijuana reported that it appeared that marijuana had some medicinal properties but that those properties needed to investigated.

In 1995 California and Arizona passed laws allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The legislation in California was titled “Compassionate Use Act of 1996” and was Proposition 215 on the ballot.  In Arizona, it was titled “Arizona Medical Marijuana Act” Proposition 203 on the voter ballot.

There was an advisory dated January 15, 1997 signed by Director Barry R. McCaffrey Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). This advisory informed that marijuana was a Schedule I controlled substance. It further advised that use for medicinal purposes was not allowed by government personnel.

The legislation in accordance with Federal Law did not allow for prescriptions but rather the proposed wording was” Recommendation For Use” and had to be signed by licensed physician.  For a physician to prescribe the use of marijuana would have violated Federal Law and with the potential revocation of physician licenses. 

Why is this important!  Marijuana was and still is a Schedule I Controlled Substance.  Being a Schedule I under Federal Law means that there is no medical use for drugs that are classified as Schedule I.   Any physician that writes a prescription for marijuana is subject to Federal prosecution.

Prior to the passage of the California and Arizona propositions, there had been some state legislatives that prohibited the use of marijuana.  The first state to pass legislation to decriminalization use of marijuana was Oregon in 1970.  Other states passed similar legislation but then some states re-imposed the criminality for possession of marijuana.

After California and Arizona passed their legislation to allow the medical use of marijuana, which opened the gates where other states then passed similar legislation.   Some states in passing similar legislation had medical conditions attached to allow individuals with those identified conditions to use marijuana to assist in the treatment of those conditions. Most, if not all the states that have passed this legislation have some type of identification card attached.  These cards are regulated by the individual states or the District of Columbia.

Currently there 26 stats that have laws to allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes. As of the election on November 8, 2016, three more states will soon join those states to make a total of 29 states – Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas.  Recreational marijuana laws passed in California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine.  Voters in Arizona defeated the recreational marijuana initiative.  

As an employer are you concerned? - Read move about Medical Marijuana – Drug Free Workplace.  Contact National Drug Screening for assistant with drug free workplace policies consistent with your States’ laws on medical marijuana and workplace drug testing.

The next article will explore the impact of “recreational” marijuana use.  That article will also identify and discuss the potential effects if marijuana is rescheduled.

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Bob Schoening

Robert Schoening is well renowned for his knowledge and influence in the drug-testing arena. As the Drug and Alcohol Program Manager for the US Coast Guard (December 2001-March 2013) he developed and managed a successful drug testing program for the marine industry nationwide and internationally.  During this time he developed and implemented a new compliance audit checklist as well as the writing and publishing a new Marine Employers Guidebook for Drug Testing.  He is also the author of the federal regulation commonly known as the two-hour alcohol testing for maritime incidents.