John Dame: Unintended consequences of medical marijuana
More than 40 years ago I ran a rock radio station, Starview 92.7-FM, in central Pennsylvania. We offered special midnight movies, including “Reefer Madness,” which warned of a decent into madness for those lured into trying marijuana. This 1930s propaganda film was campy and funny, especially in the late 1970s, when pot smoking was pervasive.
Today, we face a more serious version of reefer madness. It stems from the unintended consequences of the August 2016 legalization of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. Marijuana and its active ingredients can help patients deal with symptoms of migraines, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, seizures and glaucoma, among a host of other conditions.
While the Pennsylvania Legislature voted to legalize medical marijuana, it did little to provide guidance for businesses and schools that now struggle to deal with employees and students who have been prescribed medical marijuana. Most organizations have clear policies regarding the use of any illegal substances, including marijuana. Often it’s a zero-tolerance policy.
Marijuana is illegal federally, even though more than 30 states have relaxed their laws to make medical (and in some cases recreational) marijuana legal. Yet, no CEO wants employees operating heavy equipment or driving company vehicles with marijuana in their system. When there is a workplace accident, the people involved are immediately subjected to drug tests. If drugs or alcohol is found, they are terminated.
The unintended consequence is that valuable employees being helped by medical marijuana will be treated differently due to the risk the company is being exposed to as the result of these now-legal prescriptions. This dilemma can be maddening for employers.
Same goes for our school districts. A superintendent recently told me that if a child needs a prescribed drug while at school in his district, the school nurse will administer it — except for medical marijuana, since it is still illegal federally. A child would need to leave the school grounds to take it and could not return until it is out of his or her system. The problem is that the active ingredient in marijuana can stay in a person’s body for weeks.
Legalized medical marijuana is a blessing for many. Unfortunately, our state lawmakers forgot that businesses and schools are bound by the federal law regulating drug use at the worksite and at school.
If the Legislature does not act to help companies and school districts understand how to deal with employees and students taking medical marijuana, then these organizations will be forced to take action that potentially hurts good people.
Let’s stop this madness. My advice for companies would be to only drug test individuals who show up visibly high or unable to perform their work. Of course, safety is still paramount. Check with attorneys and insurance companies about permitting people who have been prescribed medical marijuana to be medicated safely. Don’t lose great employees struggling with medical issues.
In our schools, districts need to work out a policy and let parents know what it is well in advance.
Pennsylvania businesses and school districts shouldn’t have to go it alone. The state Legislature needs to put an end to this reefer madness by offering solutions to the unintended consequences they created.