Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Marijuana Puff Puff Give us a Break

A man by the name of Joseph Casias was recently fired from his job at Wal-Mart in Battle Creek, MI after testing positive for marijuana on a work drug test.

What makes this story interesting and or a little sad is that Joseph a prior, “associate of the year” suffers from sinus cancer and an inoperable brain tumor. Joseph had been prescribed marijuana to help cope with his disease and had a state issued drug card that showed he was a legal medical marijuana user. He showed that card at his place of work and they showed him his test results and then they showed him the door.
stoner
Yeah, that kinda makes Wal-Mart look like an evil empire doesn’t it? But wait, medical marijuana though considered legal in some states is still considered illegal by the federal government. And shouldn’t a company have the right to have a drug free policy at work? The guy had to have known he could be randomly drug tested, right? He had to agree to those terms at hire. And what is the deal with medical marijuana anyway? Do you have any idea how easy it is to get a medical marijuana card in the states that issue them? Trust me it’s easy. Let’s just say that you definitely don’t need to have cancer. While some people may actually receive benefit from the effects of cannabis, I am pretty darn sure that an even larger population is indulging for purely recreational reasons while calling it medicine.

What do you think? Was Wal-Mart wrong for firing this employee? Should companies in states that allow medicinal marijuana be allowed to tell employees that they can’t smoke on or off the job? Or should we just legalize it altogether and quit playing alt-med marijuana card games?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

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Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics. She is the fearless leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+. Tip Jar is here.

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99 Comments

  1. Feelings about marijuana and the government’s role in it aside, my issue with WalMart here is that they fired a guy for using a substance as prescribed by his doctor. Alt-med or not, his doctor prescribed it. WalMart doesn’t get to tell it’s employees what kinds of therapies they can receive for cancer.

  2. I agree with Elyse, in this case, it’s a medication. They didn’t fire him for testing positive for the chemo i’m sure he’s had, if it’s a perscribed drug i’m not really sure why it should be considered different.
    With that said, and adding that i’m not against legalizing marijuana and very pro medical marijuana, the clinics that sell it here in Denver kill me. They’re fighting to be treated as a legitimate business and don’t understand why people won’t treat them that way, yet many of their store fronts are filled with bongs (like the one around the corner from my house) and they name themselves things like “Colorado Farmacy” and “420 Wellness.” Would it be possible to try a *little* harder to be taken seriously?

  3. Definitely legalise the stuff. It has a long history of medical usage and only became illegal because of economic interests and racism.

    Would Wal-Mart have fired the guy had he tested positive for opiates because his doctor had prescribed morphine for the pain? Well, probably, because Wal-Mart doesn’t actually give a crap about its employees. The two words used least by that company are “humane” and “compassionate”.

  4. I agree with @CyberLizard. Walmart tests for lots of substances that are illegal without a prescription. They have to make exceptions for prescription drugs. The fact that they failed to make an exception this case makes them evil. Rather, contributes to their overall evilness.

    Or should we just legalize it altogether and quit playing alt-med marijuana card games?

    Of course, and I suspect it will happen in the next 10 years or so. My town of Boulder is already getting a taste of the tax revenue from marijuana dispensaries. There is no way they’ll give that up easily. Nearby towns will be forced to complete or lose their share and so it goes. Sadly money arguments are more effective ethical, moral, and logical arguments almost every time.

  5. I don’t smoke pot. I used to, but one night I couldn’t follow an episode of America’s Next Top Model, and I knew that I was better off without it.

    If Boston Legal has taught me anything, it’s that this guy was an at will employee, and Wal Mart can probably fire him for just about any reason. If he was rockin the ganj, and his contract said anything about a no drug policy, then prescription or not he was violating the terms of his employment.

    To my mind, the bigger issue is that Wal Mart was stupid enough to fire an exceptional employee because he was smoking weed. Especially considering the extenuating circumstances around his disease, it seems to me that this is a PR nightmare and a true example of putting the cart before the horse. But I would expect nothing less of Wal Mart.

  6. Walmart has a huge liability issue that nothing will fix when it comes to this issue. Suppose our hero runs someone over with a cart. Walmart gets sued and they whiz-quiz him. Of course, he’s going to fail because the devil weed stays in the system so long. When was his last toke? 15 min before running over someone? Or last night? There’s no real way to tell and all a jury needs to hear is “Walmart pothead employee ran over someone” and poof, there aren’t enough 0’s in the world to write that check.

    Yes, it sucks all around, but Walmart has to think liability first.

  7. Yep, as much as I think it sucks that they fired him, I think they had a right to do it. A lot of jobs have a drug free policy that you agree to prior to taking the job. Companies have a right to say that they have no tolerance.

  8. @Elyse: HOLD THE PHONE!!!

    You’re not getting the full story!

    I’ve worked for Wal-Mart for over 5 years, so I have some cred on this!

    Wal-Mart has a zero-tolerancy policy for drugs and alcohol. They aren’t going to drop you at any given time-only if you’ve had an accident.

    Additionally, there’s a “Get out of being fired” free card-Let your managers know you’re doping. Under normal circumstances, you’d go into a substance abuse program. If you get caught afterwards, then you’re gone for good.

    Had he done any of this? I don’t think so. This is another ploy of the Wal-Mart hating media to get you to hate Wal-Mart also.

  9. @infinitemonkey: Wal-Mart has a zero-tolerancy policy for drugs and alcohol. They aren’t going to drop you at any given time-only if you’ve had an accident.

    The fact remains they treat some prescription drugs differently than other prescription drugs. It’s up to Walmart how they are going to treat conflicting federal and state laws on marijuana . They chose to be ass hats.

  10. @infinitemonkey:

    No one should have to go to a substance abuse program for taking prescribed medication as prescribed!

    What is WalMart’s policy on other controlled but prescribe-able substances like Adderall or testosterone/steroids?

    Would a 19 year old employee be fired/disciplined for using alcohol at a party on Friday if they didn’t work again until Monday?

  11. I don’t think drug tests specifically tells you on what drugs you are on. It will just show in your urine that you are using drugs.

    I could be wrong though.

    This said, I think they were just looking for an excuse to fire him.

    I could be wrong on that front too though.

  12. there are so many issues here!

    1) End drug testing. Drug testing is a violation of privacy and unfairly regulates activities outside of work. Sobriety at work can be tested with sobriety tests. A drug test’s effectiveness is also inversely proportional to the severity of the drug being tested for. Drugs like meth, coke, and heroin are undetectable in the urine after less than a day and many rarer, strong drugs are not tested for at all. Marijuana is detectable for nearly a month for heavy users (and even two weeks for someone who uses on a semi-regular basis). Marijuana tests for drivers have deemed to be unusable because they in no way implicate driving while intoxicated. The same should be true of drug tests at work.

    2) A medical marijuana license and a prescription for use should invalidate any company rules against it. Forcing someone to choose between their job and their treatment is unethical. If the law is being abused, that is not a judgement that a business is equiped to make. On-site sobriety tests can accomplish whatever determination they need to make.

    3) Performance should be the ultimate indicator. It should not matter what substances anyone chooses to take on their free time if they can continue to do a satisfactory job while at work. I also believe that our job should not be tied to our health insurance (most civilized countries agree with me). Americans are trained from an early age to believe that our job is our life.

    Our job is our job.

    It is (or should be) what we do for approximately 8 hours of our day so we can afford to do the things we want for the other 8 hours that we aren’t sleeping. There are healthy, productive choices and unhealthy, unproductive choices that we can make, but those choices are ours to make.

    4) Marijuana should be legal. The war on drugs needs to end. If some drugs need to be illegal, then there needs to be a reasonable standard of health effects, addictiveness, and behavioral effects/repercussions of use that determines legal status and is applied to ALL drugs (including alcohol, caffiene, etc). Under any of these standards, if alcohol passes, marijuana passes.

  13. @Izzy: I don’t think drug tests specifically tells you on what drugs you are on. It will just show in your urine that you are using drugs.

    What @Amy said and they not only do qualitative analysis they do quantitative analysis. Companies really don’t want your poppy-seed bagel to trigger a false positive for opiates. Each drug metabolite has to cross a certain threshold to be considered positive.

  14. There are plenty of other drugs that it is illegal to use recreationally, and I’m sure if it was anything but pot, he could probably sue for wrongful termination and win.

    As an earlier commenter said, since it was a prescribed medication, they have no right to fire him. Imagine that he had instead tested positive for benzodiazepines and they fired him. I would test positive for those because I have a prescription for them to treat my generalized anxiety disorder. But they’re often used illegally as recreational drugs.

    Regardless of how easy it is to “game” the system to get a marijuana prescription, he had a valid prescription under state law (as far I know, anyway). He should not be able to fired for it.

    @Izzy, I don’t know about drug tests that corporations use, but I work at a hospital and a urine text can differentiate between various classes of drugs, such as benzos, marijuana, amphetamines, etc. I imagine a more specific test would be needed to determine which specific drug from any “class” one tested positive for (except, obviously marijuana). I’m sure the test Wal-mart used could should marijuana.

  15. @Elyse: If it shows up in his system, yes. Alcohol will only be in your system (to my understanding) for a few hours. As a matter of fact, if you get dropped, and there’s prescribed drug in your system, you have to show a prescription for it.

    As far as your scenerios, I’m can’t answer that with any certainty, I don’t know what the legal standing of that specific drug is. Additionally, Wal-Mart has a tendency to go with the guidelines set forth my the most restrictive states.

    @davew: Federal laws trump state laws.

  16. I think Walmart should have the right to have a drug free workplace. However, I think this should require using and/or being affected during work. Having a drink/smoke at some point before getting to work, and it not showing in any other way than as a residue in your effluences does not seem good enough to me. Especially when it comes to marijuana, for which the tests are notoriously unreliable.

  17. If Wal-mart can fire people for this particular prescription drug, what’s to stop them from banning others? Couldn’t the powers-that-be in Arkansas decide that birth control was just as bad and toss you for that?

  18. Yeah, firing somebody for taking a drug his doctor has prescribed is evil. But I also think that firing people for smoking marihuana in his spare time is kind of absurd in general, especially if there are no complaints about their job performance. Fortunately, I live in Europe. Otherwise, many of my (highly skilled, hard working) friends would be out of a job.

  19. @Everyone who replied to my first comment: Thank you for debunking what I read once on one of those websites that promote cleansing drinks (to take prior to a drug test. It’s been a while though since my little research. Don’t remember where I had read that specifically). I did have a feeling that wasn’t quite right! lol!!

  20. @Lukas: Highly trained hard working folk at nuclear reactors, refineries, chemical plants and any and all modes of transportation should be tested and I have no problem with a zero tolerance policy. If you want to smoke leaf there are many other jobs available where I agree it’s not a problem.

  21. @Mark Hall: Now that’s a slippery-slope if I’ve every heard one. Once the laws on all/most states and/or the federal government get changed, then Wal-Mart won’t have a leg to stand on, but they still have laws on their side.

    While I don’t like either the law or the policy, its not something that can just be discarded all willy nilly. Trust, there are a lot of things that I really wish would change with Wal-Mart, such as domestic partnership benefits. However, until the landscape of the laws change, I don’t see that happening in the foreseeable future. We can whine and complain about these company policies all day, or be proactive and get the laws on which they are justified changed. Then, under public pressure, these policies will change.

  22. Let me elaborate on my comment –
    If you can be fired for testing positive for a prescription drug (pot or not) – then the next logical step for companies that do not want to court higher health insurance and\or liability costs is to fire people who are on specific prescription drugs that are taken with chronic\expensive illness.

    All they need to do is state that a prescription is no guarantee against getting fired under a zero-tolerance, and they just cleared their roster of diabetes, lupus, hiv…

  23. @infinitemonkey: I agree, it really does suck. But I think he should have been on his P’s and Q’s, and talked it over with his supervisors before getting into a conflict with things that are legal by state, but prohibited by company.

    Yes, but as you stated the alternative is a substance abuse program. Getting rehabilitated from a prescribed drug that is helping a medical condition isn’t exactly useful. “Stop treating your condition or we’ll fire you.” Nice.

  24. @James Fox: In my experience, it’s the other way around. Unskilled labor positions are far more likely to require a drug test (except in machine operation) than skilled labor. It seems that a good work record, the requisite degrees, and positive references are sufficient for finding a reliable candidate. Maine actually prohibits a lot of jobs from testing, I don’t know why the laws don’t apply to Walmart, target, et al.

    You also haven’t addressed the problem of half-life. Coming up positive on a drug test for marijuana in no way indicates on the job use.

  25. MJ shouldn’t be treated any different than alcohol.

    That being said, if he was intoxicated, especially if his job involved heavy equipment such as forklifts, they had a right to fire him.

    If he was never impaired while at work, then he should not have been fired.

  26. @infinitemonkey:

    @Amy: I agree, it really does suck. But I think he should have been on his P’s and Q’s, and talked it over with his supervisors before getting into a conflict with things that are legal by state, but prohibited by company.

    The thing is, for any other prescription, he would not only not have to ask, but he could sue the company for asking him if he were taking it. You should not have to ask your boss’ permission to take a drug that is prescribed by your doctor. Never. Never. Never.

    A workplace cannot ask you to disclose your medical condition or history, and it’s really in their best interest for you not to tell them anyway. But what you’re saying is that he should have offered up information that he is legally protected from having to disclose.

    This is not a case of, “Hey boss, I’m goin’ home to get high.” It’s, “I have fucking cancer and this helps me deal with the horrible side effects from the treatments that are saving my life.”

    A cancer patient shouldn’t have to decide between coping with the side effects of chemo and keeping his job at WalMart… or coping with chemo’s wrath vs. keeping his benefits that afford him the possibility of getting chemo at all.

    If they want to fire some random asshole who needs weed for consciousness expansion, whatever. That’s the policy. You agree to the policy when you accepted the job. But that’s not what’s going on here. This is WalMart telling you what drugs you are allowed to have prescribed by your doctor, and substitute any prescribed medication in where you see the word “marijuana” and you can see how this is bad… really bad.

  27. @Elyse: I understand your point, and for almost any other drug, you’d be correct; however marijuana is in a very weird position. It’s legal in some states, banned in others, and federally illegal.

    He wouldn’t even have to disclose personal information-ask it as a hypothetical-

    “Hey, boss, my cousin down the road has been prescribed marijuana by his doctor, but he wants to work for walmart. Would that still violate the whole zero tolerance policy?”

    He gets his info and discloses none of his own.

  28. I once worked on a project to build software to handle the communication between the various players in the drug testing industry. I was morally torn. I don’t believe that most drug testing is worthwhile (especially when the company owner was talking about high school kids) but I do support the idea that the guy driving long haul truck through my town shouldn’t be meth-addled while doing it. Also, my role in the project was pretty cool (basically, the R&D role determining how this rather massive system had to work, what parts had to go where, and how the complex chain of custody could be handled) and so I continued on the project. The company bit the dust, though.

    Personally, I think all drugs should be treated like alcohol is. The crime shouldn’t be having drugs or being stoned, it should be the stupid crap you do when you’re on the drug. Drive a car while stoned? DUI. Bye bye license.

  29. @infinitemonkey:

    @davew: I’m sorry, you’ve not shown that there aren’t other prescription drugs which he could take which don’t violate company policy.

    Your boss does not have the right to poke his nose into the decisions made between you and your doctor. Company policy does not have that right. No one has that right. Your mom/husband/wife doesn’t event have that right.

    He doesn’t have to prove that there are NO alternatives. He only has to prove that he and his doctor felt that this was in his best interest… and that proof is in his prescription.

  30. @mikerattlesnake: In my experience, it’s the other way around. Unskilled labor positions are far more likely to require a drug test (except in machine operation) than skilled labor.

    My experience, too. White collar workers are too expensive to hire and train to dismiss them for as something as trivial as occasional weed. Hourly types are much easier to replace. At my last job I would have been one of the few people left if they had started checking for weed pee. I don’t know anyone who tokes more than once a month or so, but fat-soluble drugs have a long detectability period.

    My dilemma would be should I refuse a drug test on general principle if the rules were to change. I hope I would.

  31. @Elyse: I agree totally, except that if his pot use adds risk or reduces safety while doing his job the employer has a right to know that regardles of the type of medication; and if it’s possible an accommodation could be reached. But as mentioned by others the main problem is the crap conflicting laws not the policy of the employer which is consistent with current federal laws which I understand do not allow for legal medicinal use of pot.

  32. It should be noted that I support the end of Prohibition on all drugs as well as industrial hemp. Scientific evidence should dictate the level of regulation; as the potential for physical addiction and toxicity increases, so too should the restrictions. That said:

    Wal-Mart is completely within its rights, as cannabis is completely banned by the federal government – for medicinal, recreational or industrial use. Being an interstate and international company, I would gather they would not want to risk any possible legal issues with the government if they were to openly support anything related to cannabis.

    Also, no doctor in the U.S. can prescribe medical marijuana, they can only offer a recommendation – there is a legal difference. If a doctor were to prescribe a banned substance he would be at risk of losing his license by the FDA and DEA, at the very least.

    On the other hand, the employee may be able to take some civil action against Wal-Mart, depending on the particular medical marijuana laws of his state. If the laws allow, he might be able to prove discrimination and violation of states rights. Slim, but possible.

    As others have stated, drug testing is an complete failure. Those tests only detect either the actual presence of drugs or the metabolites that indicate previous use. Some tests for some drugs can detect levels of intoxication, if there is some acceptable standard for determining that. Even the well-known blood alcohol content does not specifically determine impairment. The problem with cannabis is that, as opposed to other substances, the body is not in any big hurry to clean the system out of the THC and other cannabinoids, as opposed to other toxins like cocaine, heroin, alcohol, etc.. Smoke a joint on Friday and it’s possible that it can be detected 10-14 days later. If you smoke a few times a week, the metabolites may still be in your system for up to 6 weeks. You may not be under the influence at all yet you can still be popped on a drug test. Imagine you take a summer off after college and enjoy yourself before hitting the job market. You decide to smoke your last couple of joints ever, but stop a couple of months before starting your job search so your system cleans out. You get offered a job – let’s say in a marketing department – but because of the company’s insurance you have to undergo a drug test. But they use a hair sample. Guess what, they’ll probably find that you used pot in the past and you won’t get the job.

    We need to move away from drug testing and move towards impairment testing. Even someone who is simply tired is a danger to his/her self and others if they aren’t fully alert and their reasoning and reaction times are diminished. If someone likes to do a gram of coke on Friday nights, odds are they won’t get busted. Do the same with pot and you’ll eventually get nailed for sure.

  33. @James Fox:

    Your company still doesn’t have the right to tell you what kinds of medications you can and cannot take. They can put you on leave while you’re on the medication if you are unable to function. They can move you to a different position. They cannot fire you.

    And this guy was not in a position where smoking pot would make him a danger, if I recall correctly, and he never was high on the job.

  34. @Elyse: I don’t get the Xanex-pot link, could you explain?

    When making a prescription, a Dr. needs to take into account a lot of things. On a recent trip to the emergency room, the doctors wanted to give me a prescription that would cause severe drowsiness. They asked if someone could drive me home. No, no one could. So, they took that into account and gave me another medication which was effective, but didn’t have the same side effect. I then had to get anti-nausea medication to counteract the side effect of nausea.

    A responsible doctor needs to consider possible side effects. Putting your job in danger is a narley side effect.

  35. @Paradym: …well, what do you know, I checked out the law, and it says:

    A qualifying patient who has been issued and possesses a registry identification card shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner, or denied any right or privilege, including but not limited to civil penalty or disciplinary action by a business or occupational or professional licensing board or bureau, for the medical use of marihuana in accordance with this act,

    Yes, it was wrong for Wal-Mart to fire him if he had his card. Legally, they can’t.

    Position changed. @Elyse: , you were right.

  36. @infinitemonkey:

    Thanks for that. So it looks like this could be a test case for the state law. That state law conflicts with federal law is where everything gets sticky.

    I think this will come down to determining whether or not he was under the influence at the time, which is impossible to determine when drug testing for pot.

  37. Here’s where Wal-Mart is probably going to base their defense:

    333.26427 Scope of act; limitations.
    (c) Nothing in this act shall be construed to require:
    (2) An employer to accommodate the ingestion of marihuana in any workplace or any employee working while under the influence of marihuana.

    They didn’t fire because he was a marijuana patient, they fired him for testing positive. Therefore, they can argue that he was under the influence.

  38. Walmart has a right to fire him for violating federal law. I disagree with the decision and think it’s a shitty thing to do. Make it legal already and then as long as someone’s not under the influence at work it won’t be an issue.

    What’s even shittier and pushes Walmart into downright evil territory in this case is that they’re trying to get the guy’s unemployment benefits terminated.

  39. Hi everyone. I’ve lurked for quite a while but this is my first comment :-)

    I’ll say first that I support legalisation and regulation of most (if not all) controlled substances. The war on drugs has been a failure both with regard to public expense and public health.

    However, states’ legalisation of medical marijuana is just a red herring that will probably impede any meaningful reform. After all, there is already an FDA-approved prescription form of THC that is 100% legal: Dronabinol. Doctors can prescribe this drug to patients for nausea (or even off-label for anxiety) without any danger of tangling with the federal government’s ban on cannabis.

    Using a synthetic substitute for marijuana also means that precise dosages can be given as appropriate to the patient’s condition rather than relying on relatively unprocessed plants, which can vary widely in efficacy.

    An apt analogue would be if doctors “recommended” smoking raw opium for pain rather than giving precise, controlled dosages of opiate painkillers, which are legal. I’m probably correct in assuming that any doctor urging patients to smoke opium in violation of federal law would be very quick to lose their license.

    Even if people should be allowed to smoke cannabis (or opium!) if they want to, there is currently a difference between these two applications under federal law, and Walmart is correct in having a company-wide policy that complies with the law. Just because Obama’s justice department has decided not to enforce certain aspects of the current legislation does not mean that this could not change in the future (even in as little as a few years).

    Besides, this quasi-legal solution (clearly meant to enable recreational use) will only placate those who might otherwise continue advocating for real drug reform on the federal level.

  40. @delictuscoeli:

    I agree with you on medical marijuana being somewhat of an impediment towards the real issues of the problems of prohibition. Yet, it could be argued that allowing the medical use of marijuana at least allows those that are uneducated about cannabis and concerned about its use an opportunity to experience a taste of what it might be like if it were completely legal. They would see that no one dies, it’s slightly less addictive than caffeine (and only psychologically, not physically), and that regulation reduces use by the underaged. They would see that there are no boogeymen that they were led to believe by drug warriors. There are so many factual and reasoned reasons for ending prohibition, but sometimes you need to ease people into The Scary.

    A little about Marinol and Dronabinol: As you stated, they are 100% THC, whereas smoked or consumed cannabis ranges from 3-30% THC, but also includes other cannabinoids that can alter the effects of THC; depending on the varying levels you get different results. When using the synthetic version you get only THC and you get 100% at a particular dose. If you need more after an hour or so you can take more. That’s assuming you aren’t taking it for nausea; try swallowing and keeping that pill down. If you smoke it, you feel the effects within a minute or so and can then decide if you need more. You start with a smaller dose and then titrate up to what you need to provide the effects for your symptoms. You can also choose the strain based upon your particular needs. While not exactly perfected and scientific yet, in the west coast states they’re making great strides in getting all this figured out. Almost all patients that have tried the synthetic THC strongly prefer using the more natural form as it’s less intrusive to cognition and easier to figure out the dose.

    The only real solution is complete legality. You control who has access (drug dealers do not card), the quality of the product (who’s checking how your pot is grown, if it’s not laced, etc.), reduce crime and violence (and the incredible rate of incarceration and growth of the privatized prison industry), and have access to tax revenue that is currently all going to criminal organizations.

  41. @delictuscoeli:

    I definitely take issue with unregulated herbal marijuana as a therapy. It’s… you know… herbal medicine.

    I wonder if herbal vs pill form THC would have made a difference in this case.

    I also was under the impression (from my hippier stonier days) that some people cannot take THC in pill form because they can’t keep it down… and now that I say that, it sounds REALLY dumb.

  42. As I understand it, that Wal-Mart has a right to fire anyone they want for any reason simply because Michigan is a right-to-work state. It has nothing to do with federal or state marijuana rules, but I’m happy they stupidly stated this reason for firing him, because now he actually may have a case against them. They could have said “We are exercising our right-to-work clause” and nothing else.

    As far as Marinol, it is formulated specifically for nausea and doesn’t contain other cannabinoids such as CBD. If a patient gets any relief from cannabis other than appetite stimulation, they may not get that relief from a pill that contains only synthetic THC. For example, there are some studies (and much more anecdotal data) indicating that cannabis can be effective at combating spasticity in MS patients, but Marinol would probably not work for that.

  43. As I have said so many times before I worked as a correctional officer for 2 years and a parole officer for 9 years. When I started I was all about the war on drugs. When I was done with it I was of a completly different mindset. Legalize all of it and tax the shit out of it. Everything, marijuana, cocaine, crack, herion, meth, I don’t care. We can never stop people from using it if they want to. Legalize it, sell it through government monoplies, never advertise, tax it at a 1000%, use the taxes for treatment and education. As for companies testing. That is up to them but I think it is stupid. What an employee does off the clock isn’t the boss’s business.

  44. @Gabrielbrawley: “Legalize it, sell it through government monoplies, never advertise, tax it at a 1000%, use the taxes for treatment and education.”

    Surely a massive problem is that hard drug addicts will only be able to pay that massive tax through criminal means/get it on the black market as they do currently/both?

    Another question: how many recreational heroin users etc, lead functional lifes instead of hopelessly addicted? Assuming it isn’t high, it doesn’t seem sensible to me for such a socially damaging behaviour to be legally acceptable.

  45. I’d be for the legalization of it, with one important constraint: Smoking it remain illegal.

    If I’m not actively making a decision to use it I sure as hell don’t want it my body.

    If people want to recreationally eat special brownies, or whatever, I have absolutely no issue with them doing that, and with them being permitted to do that.

  46. Or how about you make it legal to smoke, but not in public? In your house, sure, go ahead. In public, walking down the street, no.

    I support marijuana’s legalization, and I have a major problem with the drug tests around today. If it doesn’t affect your job, if you’re not high while you’re there, what does it matter? I don’t see the difference between going home after work and having a whiskey, and going home to smoke a joint.

    However, I’m in 100% support of blood tests if you have an accident or your job is affected. Urine tests just test for metabolites, which don’t get you high and stay in your system for a long time. A blood test for the chemical itself would work much better under the circumstances. Just like a breathalyzer.

  47. I’m all for the legalisation of drugs (yes, even the hard stuff) but I think Paradym and Noadi make a valid point about marijuana being illegal under federal law. The Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution give federal law priority over state laws, and that means the DEA could decide to swoop in and arrest the poor guy (probably using a SWAT team ’cause the DEA are like that) at any time, even if he was at work.

    Looking at it this way, Walmart wasn’t just dumping on an employee, they were protecting themselves against a belligerent government. I can’t blame them for that.

  48. I’m going to disagree with one point that’s reiterated here, namely that “firing somebody for taking a drug his doctor has prescribed is evil”. It’s only evil if taking this drug does not preclude you from working in your job, and the employer cannot reassign you to a job which you can do while on the medication.

    Imagine if Alice is a truck driver, and Alice’s doctor prescribes her a medication which has the warning “do not operate heavy machinery”. In this case, while you’re taking the drug, you can’t do the job. Alice’s employer should reassign her to a non-driving job if it is not an unreasonable hardship to do so. If that can’t be done, then they may be well within their rights to terminate her employment.

    (I’m assuming here that the condition for which the medication is prescribed is not due to a workplace injury. That opens up another legal can o’ worms.)

    Having said that, I agree with glassdirigible. Smoking is bad for you, regardless of what you’re smoking, so this method of partaking of THC should not be encouraged.

    One more thing: There is a small amount of evidence that some strains of THC-bearing plants are more prone to give you psychotic episodes than others. IMO, more research needs to be done here before making it legal.

  49. @Gabrielbrawley:

    While I understand your sentiments, in practicality some of the provisions you suggest would not resolve the issues around drug use and criminal activity.

    Too high of a tax and you still have a black market. Taxes on cannabis should be along the lines of alcohol. And why not allow people to grow their own if they so choose? Cannabis is a relatively benign plant, non-toxic, practically non-addictive and is easy to grow. Just like beer, you can make your own if you wish, but most people will choose to purchase it and are willing to pay a reasonable tax.

    The same with restrictions on use. As with alcohol, you cannot just drink anywhere in public – save for a few places that are lenient on that such as Las Vegas. But even then cannabis can be singled out for further restrictions on smoking in public. There can still be places where people can gather to smoke if they chose, like cafes for cannabis, just like bars for alcohol. I agree that no one should ever be subject to involuntary ingestion of any substance.

    I also don’t think we need the government monopolizing any market. State run stores for alcohol and cannabis smells a bit of too much control. There’s no reason why state licensed, privately run businesses cannot do at least as well. In my opinion, I’d rather that private citizens be allowed to partake in that market instead of the state.

  50. (From a former Union steward’s perspective)From the coverage I’ve seen, the employee had a medical marijuana card and showed it to the manager. It made no difference. The employee complied with the law. WC injuries are definitely a can of worms, but that doesn’t apply here as far as I know. Working for Wal-Mart doesn’t give you cancer.

    As far as I’m concerned, if something is permitted for medical reasons under state or federal law, an employer should not be allowed to fire an employee for using it. The law trumps an employer’s interests in this case. Are they going to fire employees using prescribed narcotics as well? Reassigning the employee to work where the drug is not a factor would be appropriate.

    IANAL, so I don’t know how this would play in a “right to work” (for less) state like MI. I’m not sure what – if anything – would trump “Right to work” (for less) laws.

  51. @Pseudonym:

    “Smoking is bad for you, regardless of what you’re smoking, so this method of partaking of THC should not be encouraged.”
    While true that smoking is bad for you, the research so far shows no links between smoked cannabis and cancer. In fact, some studies show an inverse link between smoked cannabis and lung cancer, meaning that there is evidence that cannabis has anti-tumoral properties. More studies are needed, to be sure. Also, there are other methods of consuming pot – from edibles and teas to vaporization, which heats the pot just enough to release the cannabinoids but not burn the plant material thus eliminating the ingestion of carcinogens.
    If pot use caused cancer, wouldn’t we have seen a substantial growth of pot-caused cancer in the 70s? Pot use has remained relatively steady since after its popularity in the late 60s declined, yet cancer rates continue to grow and there are no reported cases of any cancer attributed solely to cannabis use.

    “One more thing: There is a small amount of evidence that some strains of THC-bearing plants are more prone to give you psychotic episodes than others. IMO, more research needs to be done here before making it legal.”
    I have not heard of any legitimate studies that suggest this. There have been some poorly done and refuted studies that tried to link cannabis use with inciting schizophrenia, but those only reiterate that anyone who has any mental disorder shouldn’t be taking any drugs – caffeine and alcohol included – without close medical supervision. It isn’t the cannabis that causes schizophrenia, it can just exacerbate what is already there.
    Again, if pot use caused any psychotic episodes, wouldn’t we have many cases of psychotic episodes during the heyday of pot use in the late 60s and early 70s? And wouldn’t we see a greater percentage of psychosis in Rastafarians?

    Being skeptics, we should be very wary of succumbing to reefer madness.

  52. I think that employers should not have the right to drug test employees for every little thing, maybe initially when they’re hired and if their job involves safety concerns like driving or operating heavy machinery. If an employee’s performance is bad, let him go. I think that, while marijuana and its derivatives might have some medical uses, medical marijuana is, on the whole, bad for science-based medicine, but since it is illegal, people will try to bring doctors and medicine into it as an excuse to get high, and good science will go out the window. I think that marijuana should be decriminalized. Then people could get stoned without needing their doctor’s approval, and it would not have such a corrupting influence on SBM. But whatever they do, I don’t think that marijuana should ever be allowed to be advertised. As much as I enjoy marijuana, I believe that it is not harmless and its use should be, not prohibited, but discouraged.

  53. @Pseudonym: Really? How does someone smoking in their own personal home, or in, say, a bar or club (like a cigar club) affect you, exactly? It doesn’t.

    Also, for those saying “SMOKING IS BAD FOR YOU ALWAYS!” as has been pointed out, that’s not necessarily the case with marijuana.

    ALSO, you don’t have to smoke marijuana. You can eat it, but that’s not really practical, because that will fuck you up. The most affordable way to actually smoke it that’s not as harsh is through a water pipe or bong, as the water helps filter the smoke. The BEST way is a vaporizer. These are awesome, and a great way to enjoy some nice chronic, as there is almost zero waste. Then, you can make pot butter with the left-overs! A friend of mine does this. 

    In fact, he’s made a bunch of pot butter and gave it to his mom’s friend’s daughter, who has cancer. It’s helping her deal with the pain and general awfulness of chemotherapy, since pain pills tend to make her sick, and most are habit-forming narcotics, which marijuana isn’t.

  54. @Pseudonym: One more thing: There is a small amount of evidence that some strains of THC-bearing plants are more prone to give you psychotic episodes than others. IMO, more research needs to be done here before making it legal.

    It’s believed that it triggers something in your brain chemistry or whatever that is already “wrong”, not that it itself causes the psychotic episodes.

    But hey — alcohol is legal. And that shit causes psychotic episodes. All the time. You can overdose from alcohol. Easily.

    You could never, ever overdose from marijuana. It’s not possible.

    I have experience with both heavy alcoholics, and heavy marijuana smokers (the kind that give stoners like me a bad name).

    If it was life or death and I had to choose to hang out with a bunch of heavy alcoholics, or a bunch of heavy marijuana smokers, I’d chill with the stoners. And bring munchies and silly movies.

    In all my years of smoking, I have never, ever, ever, ever seen someone have a “psychotic break” or any kind of wacky psychotic episode because of marijuana. Paranoia? Sure, but I’ve seen that when someone drinks too much coffee. And usually it just requires putting the person to sleep, or it fades after a while on its own.

    Now, I’ve seen a lot of people do some crazy ass, violent, disgusting shit when drunk. Including many of my family members and a few exes.

  55. I have read through Michigan’s Medical Marijuana law. You can read it too, right here:

    http://www.legislature.mi.gov/%28S%28luwimn55zlj0mp2n4rfecc55%29%29/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=mcl-Initiated-Law-1-of-2008

    The relevant passage is:

    “Sec. 4. (a) A qualifying patient who has been issued and possesses a registry identification card shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner, or denied any right or privilege, including but not limited to civil penalty or disciplinary action by a business or occupational or professional licensing board or bureau, for the medical use of marihuana in accordance with this act…”

    So, Wal-Mart broke Michigan law. Plain and simple.

    The trick is that Federal law supersedes Michigan law, and marijuana is still illegal under Federal law.

    However, see:

    http://articles.latimes.com/2009/oct/20/nation/na-medical-marijuana20

    “The Obama administration on Monday told federal authorities not to arrest or prosecute medical marijuana users and suppliers who aren’t violating local laws…”

    This refers to criminal prosecution only, not any action taken by an employer.

    Wal-Mart’s take:
    http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2010/03/wal-mart_fires_battle_creek_em.html

    In a statement, a company spokesman said: “In states, such as Michigan, where prescriptions for marijuana can be obtained, an employer can still enforce a policy that requires termination of employment following a positive drug screen. We believe our policy complies with the law and we support decisions based on the policy.”

    Technically true, because it’s still illegal at Federal level, but Michigan law does, in fact say that Wal-Mart can’t do this. According to my reading of the law anyways. I’m not a lawyer, tho.

    Primary sources FTW. As skeptics, we don’t do enough of this tedious work, but it’s essential to understanding these thorny issues.

  56. @biguglyjim: “I don’t smoke pot. I used to, but one night I couldn’t follow an episode of America’s Next Top Model, and I knew that I was better off without it.”

    If I were in that position, I would have given up watching “America’s Next Top Model”, instead.

  57. When Federal and State law are in conflict it becomes a test for the court – Think Roe V Wade. Walmart sided with Federal Law and they have the resources to stand behind that.

    @Elyse When corporation bends policy, especially when bending it is at odds with Federal Law, its really a no win for anyone. Right now, the DEA controls prescriptive authority, and they say MM is a no no. This makes it less clear cut than prescriptive drugs.

    Personally I think it is hard to wear a skeptical hat and claim medical marijuana should be legalized and/or a prescriptive choice for a physician. The clinical trials have shown it is less efficacious than synthetic THC with significantly greater associated health risks. Playing the medical necessity card is rationalization. If you believe in marijuana legalization for other reasons, hopefully you are examining them with the same level of rational thought you do as the rest of your world views, or not depending on your views.

  58. Personally I would start with a lobbying organization that is known to rely heavily on anecdotal “evidence” as research.

    I’m not saying THC shouldn’t be investigated for therapeutic effects. Like other herbs found in nature, it should be starting point for developing controlled efficacious compounds.

  59. @coreyjf:

    “Personally I would start with a lobbying organization that is known to rely heavily on anecdotal “evidence” as research.”

    Guessing you meant the opposite of what you wrote, and my reply is that I wouldn’t either. NORML, while an advocacy organization, doesn’t rely heavily on anecdotal evidence as research, that’s a bit dismissive. And that’s also why I stated to ‘start there’, and you could then follow the many references cited; there are lots of research to support the efficacy of cannabis as a whole plant. Or if you prefer, go big and read the Shafer Commission report:

    http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/library/studies/nc/ncmenu.htm

    But essentially, cannabis is a unique plant in many ways and, so far, attempts to extract a specific compound or synthesis of one that has the beneficial effects without adding negative side effects haven’t panned out. Medicinally, if the plant in its pure form provides all the benefits without causing any harm, why the need to patent it and turn it into a pill?

  60. The scientific community by in large still rejects the notion that it does no harm. Those who claim smoked and/or vaporized marijuana is more effective than synthetic have based that on subjective patient reports. Shocking patients might prefer something that works and gets them high, versus something that just works.

  61. Corey has a point. If we hold pot to the same standards as other medicines it doesn’t pass muster. There is a body of evidence that is compelling and encourages further study, but it is not yet well researched.

    Honestly, I think it’s way easier to justify it’s use recreationally than it is medically, but I’m not going to fight it. Medical marijuana dispenseries lead to de facto legalization, lead to people hopefully realizing that it’s not all that bad, leads to full on legalization, leads to people not going to jail for stupid shit. That last point is the most important and should trump any stoner’s desire to toke. The current drug laws put harmless, innocent people in prison for YEARS. I can let my medical skepticism lapse slightly if it puts us on a path to ending that.

  62. @coreyjf:

    “The scientific community by in large still rejects the notion that it does no harm.”
    What scientific community are you speaking of? We know it’s non-toxic, there is mounting evidence that it doesn’t cause cancer and may even be preventative for some cancers, it’s about as or less addictive than coffee. The only known health issue for long-term heavy smokers is possibly mild emphysema, which is mitigated by vaporization. Any claims of it causing harm have been debunked.

    “Those who claim smoked and/or vaporized marijuana is more effective than synthetic have based that on subjective patient reports.”
    In regards to symptom relief, which is the common indication for medical marijuana, what else is there other than patient reports? If someone is nauseous, how can that be objectively measured in order to see if any treatment works? Also, there exists lots of evidence of MS patients being relieved of muscle spasms, and that can be witnessed within minutes of their taking cannabis.

    “Shocking patients might prefer something that works and gets them high, versus something that just works.”
    Ah, the old “but they might get high” canard. While it’s very true that there would be great use for drugs that relieve symptoms or cure illness that also did not have any psychotropic effects, especially in regards to pain relief, there aren’t many. That someone gets high on the Vicodin prescribed for their pain does not make it less of a legitimate drug. And besides, what’s so wrong with someone who is ill or in pain also feeling a little euphoria? I never understood the opposition to patients feeling high, unless they don’t want to of course.

    @mikerattlesnake:

    In regards to its medical use, yes we should hold it to the same standards, no doubt about that. The problem is that the DEA and FDA will not allow any research of cannabis for positive medical use, only for research that might find anything negative about it. Cannabis is a Schedule 1 drug, along with mescaline, LSD and heroin. These drugs are considered to have no medical use, therefore aren’t authorized for research. However, throughout the years research has been done and along with the (dreaded) increasing anecdotal evidence there are strong indications that cannabis and compounds in it have strong potential for medical applications.

    Nonetheless, you are correct in that the real answer is simply legalization for all uses – with regulation. If someone would rather use cannabis for some disorder, it’s no different than using coffee for a headache or a pick-me-up. Except that it’s safer. And if it was legal the pharmaceutical companies could then have a field day developing strains and compounds for different applications and perhaps removing the psychotropic aspects for those that don’t want that. Win-win for all.

  63. @Paradym seems that NIH, FDA and DEA don’t agree. saying marijuana is safe not mesh with reality based science. And using a plant with inconstant/variable doses of THC versus verus balanced and controlled medications isn’t good medicine.

  64. @coreyjf:

    The DEA is legally bound to not support anything regarding the legalization of marijuana and therefore does not allow the FDA or NIH to perform any studies. They use long and thoroughly debunked myths of reefer madness and not reality based science. In all history, no one has died from cannabis use, nor is there a single medical report of anyone contracting any disease, including cancer, from the use of cannabis. How much safer does it need to be?

    Here’s a list of organizations that support the legalization of medical marijuana: http://bit.ly/aXwMVG

    Anyway, it’s obvious we’ll not meet anywhere on this issue and I appreciate the debate. I haven’t used cannabis in years but it’s a topic that I am very interested in and I’ve done lots of research on it. I’ve read many well-researched and peer-reviewed studies and the evidence is overwhelming that it’s a safe drug with vast potential uses in medicine and industry. Different strains of plants can be bred with consistent percentages of THC which is easily titrated as needed by the user without any fear of overdose. Them’s just the facts. ;-)

  65. what I hope Corey is insinuating is that those aren’t “the facts” in medical terms. They are generally accepted, and probably true ideas that have yet to undergo extensive medical testing. Given the plausibility of claims, it’s pretty negligent of the DEA to continue disallowing testing by the FDA. I agree that this needs to change, but bypassing this step is not the answer. If you’re going to call something medicine, it needs to live up to the standard that that category implies. This is why I say it’s easier to justify its use recreationally. If alcohol and tobacco can be sold with the caveat “this probably will kill you, good luck” (in slightly slipperier language) then the bar is much lower.

    The vibe I get from corey’s post, though, seems to indicate that he might actually believe the DARE scare tactics and reefer madness BS. I hope I’m wrong and he’s just advocating for thorough medical testing.

  66. @mikerattlesnake What I believe is this – I love that the skeptical community is all over the Alt-med & Antivax crowd but I am disappointed when I hear so called “medical marijuana” being touted as acceptable science/medicine. That is not to say it shouldn’t be studied, but like anything else, if it is going to be used as medicine, it is be done so in a controlled/measured fashion. Do I think it is a safe panacea that is good for society, no, but I wouldn’t compare it to crack either.

  67. ok, glad to have that clarified. I definitely agree with you about consistency in medical evidence*, but I think I am less cautious than you are about general legalization.

    *Though I will reiterate: I can let my medical skepticism lapse slightly if it puts us on a path to ending prosecution for pot.

    Justice trumps medical skepticism. If people were going to jail for choosing to use homeopathy, I would fight for it to be legalized too. I think claims should be based in reality, but that’s not more important than liberty.

  68. I say legalize *all* drugs – prescription, recreational, effective, placebo – all should be available over the counter.

    Legalizing and taxing marijuana (at the very least) could solve California’s budget problems. It won’t happen, but it should.

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