Marijuana use by adolescents, including self-reported chronic use, is not associated with adverse health effects later in life, according to an assessment of longitudinal data published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.
Investigators from the Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Rutgers University prospectively examined whether young men who consumed cannabis during adolescence and/or young adulthood experienced a heightened risk of developing physical and mental health problems in their mid-30s. Researchers controlled for several potential confounding factors, including subjects’ socioeconomic status, co-occurring use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, and access to medical care and health insurance.
Researchers reported that marijuana users, including chronic users, were no more likely to self-report experiencing physical or mental health issues than were non-users. Investigators further reported that early onset chronic marijuana use was not associated with an increased risk for the development of depression or anxiety disorders in early adulthood.
The findings contradicted researchers’ initial hypothesis, as their stated motivation for conducting the study was to “provide empirical evidence regarding the potential adverse consequences of marijuana legalization.”
Authors concluded: “The present study used prospective, longitudinal data that spanned more than 20 years to examine whether patterns of marijuana use from adolescence to young adulthood were related to indicators of physical and mental health in adulthood. … Overall, data from this sample provide little to no evidence to suggest that patterns of marijuana use from adolescence to young adulthood … were negatively related to the indicators of physical or mental health studied. … This is particularly striking given that men in the early onset chronic group were using marijuana (on average) once per week by late adolescence and continued using marijuana approximately 3-4 times a week from age 20 to 26 years.”
Full text of the study, “Chronic adolescent marijuana use as a risk factor for physical and mental health problems in young adult men,” appears online here.
One of the most troubling aspects of current marijuana policy in this country, even in those states that have legalized marijuana, is the continuing job discrimination faced by those who smoke marijuana.
In 49 states (Arizona is the sole exception), a private employer is legally free to fire anyone who tests positive for THC in their system, without the slightest suggestion the individual came to work in an impaired condition. It is a relic left over from the “reefer madness” days when marijuana smokers were considered bad people, and employers were anxious to identify smokers and get rid of them.
Arizona does not permit employers to discriminate against legal medical marijuana users (they do not yet have legal recreational use) “unless a failure to do so would cause an employer to lose a monetary or licensing benefit under federal law or regulations.” Of course, employees in Arizona are not protected if they come to work in an impaired condition, or possess or use marijuana in the workplace. Until we manage to change federal law, that is a good model for new states to consider, as they draft either medical use or full legalization proposals.
For those who may not know, it is important to understand that THC remains in the system for days, or for heavy, long-term users even weeks, after the individual has smoked marijuana. But the individual is only impaired for about 90-minutes after smoking. It is the impairment that should be of concern to the employer, not the off-work usage.
The Absurdity of the ‘Drug-Free Workplace’
For too many years, private employers have been encouraged by the federal government to drug test their employees, as a way to enforce the anti-marijuana laws. These employers who opted for what is called a “drug-free workplace,” seemed unaware of the hypocrisy of allowing workers to get drunk in the evening and come to work the following morning, while treating off-job marijuana use as a disqualifying factor, even if it occurred days or weeks earlier.
They justified that distinction on the basis that marijuana was illegal, while alcohol was not. But with the changing marijuana policies and attitudes in this country, including four states and the District of Columbia that have legalized adult use, and a total of 37 states that have adopted some form of legal medical use, that justification no longer applies.
Testing for THC determines only whether the individual has smoked marijuana over the last few days; it is not a test for whether one is impaired when the test is taken. Yet today, even in states where marijuana is legal, the majority of employers continue to fire good employees who test positive for THC, without any indication that the individual has ever come to work in an impaired condition. It is an ignorant and self-defeating policy that no longer has any place in the American workplace.
Unless the off-the-job marijuana use is interfering with that employee’s ability to perform their job in a safe and efficient manner, it should be irrelevant.
We need to better educate employers about marijuana and marijuana smoking, and convince them that drug testing, at least for the purpose of identifying marijuana smokers, is a costly waste of money for the employer and will inevitably result in the unnecessary loss of good, productive employees. Whether one enjoys a glass of wine or a marijuana joint when they relax in the evening has absolutely nothing to do with their fitness as an employee.
Another Reagan Legacy
Workplace drug testing was largely popularized by President Ronald Reagan, who in 1986 issued an executive order requiring federal agencies to establish regulations to achieve a “drug-free workplace,” making it clear that federal employees are forbidden to use illegal drugs “whether on duty or off duty,” and requiring drug testing for all applicants for federal employment, and for federal employees deemed to hold sensitive position.
At that time only about 20 percent of private employers drug tested their employees. Today that number exceeds 80 percent. Private corporations have been enlisted in the war on marijuana smokers in a big way, and it will take some time and effort to turn them around. For too long, employers were made to feel that it would almost be unpatriotic if they refused to drug test their employees, that somehow they would share the blame for the perceived drug abuse problems in America. The unmistakable message was “If you love America, help us enforce the marijuana laws and drug test your employees.” And most fell in line.
We all agree that those who operate dangerous machinery, or have the safety and welfare of large numbers of people in their hands, such as bus drivers and airline pilots, can and should be subject to random drug testing. But the vast majority of employers have no such excuse for violating their employees’ privacy.
Influence of the Drug Testing Industry
Another factor driving workplace drug testing is the influence of the drug-testing industry, which includes some of the former drug czars who have cashed-in on the “drug-free workplace” mantra. Most private employers have no drug abuse expertise, and they are regularly warned by those in the drug-testing industry that if they do not hire these drug-testing companies to test the urine of their employees, they will be losing valuable production by workers who are stoned on the job.
There is not the slightest evidence that stoned employees on the job is a serious problem for employers, or that the money employers spend on these needless drug tests is money well spent. In fact, the National Academy of Sciences in 1994, following a three-year study, published a report entitled Under the Influence: Drugs and the American Workforce, which challenged the cost-effectiveness of drug testing employees.
And the inevitable result of workplace drug testing is the loss of many good, loyal, productive employees who are fired for testing positive for THC, but who have never come to work in an impaired condition. That’s both unfair to the employees and damaging to the employer. As marijuana legalization continues forward across the country, those companies that continue to drug test for marijuana will end up in an uncompetitive position, as other more innovative companies accept the legalization of marijuana and protect their employees from job discrimination.
As we move forward with legalization proposals in more and more states, it is important that those proposing the changes do polling to test the impact of including language similar to that adopted by Arizona voters to protect legal smokers from being fired. If the polling demonstrates that legalization can win with the anti-job discrimination provisions included, then obviously they should be. Next to stopping the arrest of smokers, ending the unfair job discrimination marijuana smokers face must be our highest priority.
But if the polling suggests the inclusion of those job-protection provisions will cause the defeat of the initiative, then the language should be deleted and we should deal with this issue in the second phase of reform. We will continue to work to end the unfair job discrimination faced by marijuana smokers, as well as other needed improvements involving child custody and DUID issues, but it is easier politically for us to fine-tune these new laws once marijuana has been legalized and de-stigmatized, and marijuana smokers are no longer seen as criminals.
And we should focus our efforts on better educating private employers that drug testing their employees for marijuana use is both unnecessary and a waste of resources. In the end, it is the cultural acceptance of responsible marijuana smokers as good citizens that will finally end this destructive policy.
National Council of State Legislatures Passes Resolution “In Support of States Determining Their Own Marijuana and Hemp Policies”August 7, 2015
The National Council of State Legislatures passed a resolution yesterday urging the federal government to amend the Controlled Substances Act and to refrain from interfering with state laws permitting the legal production and use of cannabis.
The National Council of State Legislatures is a bipartisan, non-governmental organization founded in 1975 to unite members of legislature’s from around the United States. The council works to improve the quality and effectiveness of state legislatures, promote innovative policy and communication among state legislatures, and to magnify their voice in the federal system.
The NCSL resolves “[S]tates and localities should be able to set whatever marijuana and hemp policies work best to improve the public safety, health, and economic development of their communities.” Members passed the resolution overwhelmingly by a voice vote.
The vote represents a strong consensus among state lawmakers that the federal government should embrace, not impede the progress states have made to amend their marijuana laws, and encourages federal lawmakers to consider rescheduling marijuana in order for states to safely and effectively move forward in their reforms.
Currently 23 states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws on the books, and half of all US states recognize industrial hemp. Four states plus Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana for recreational use. There is no doubt states have recognized the failed efforts of marijuana prohibition and are eager to try out other policies. NORML commends the resolution adopted by the National Council of State Legislatures and will continue to advocate for the federal government’s compliance.
We read with interest the recent review of medical use of cannabinoids (1). As the authors attempt to emphasize, they focus on a heterogeneous collection of experiments that employed a range of treatments, including synthetic THC, CBD, and THC-mimicking drugs.
Lay readers might inappropriately generalize these results specifically to whole plant medical cannabis But few (only two) of these experiments were conducted using medical cannabis; most of the studies reviewed focused on outcome measures that do not address the plant’s potential advantages over a single, compound agent in pill form.
For example, the authors conclude that evidence of individual, synthetic cannabinoids to help nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy was low in quality. Within hours of the publication of the paper, mainstream media coverage applied these conclusions to medical cannabis per se, not just medical cannabinoids (2). In fact, as the authors emphasize, only 6 of the 28 studies assessing nausea and vomiting used THC, and none of these actually employed vaporized or inhaled botanical cannabis. The dependent measures were also not sensitive to the key advantage of medical cannabis for nausea: speed of onset. (Inhaled medicines can work within seconds. Sprayed extracts require at least a half hour while cannabinoids in pill form can take multiple hours.) The authors were generally careful about these caveats, but the disparate and inaccurate media coverage suggests that flagship journals in all fields now have to be even more diligent when cautioning readers about the inappropriate generalization of results. Despite increasing popularity, medical cannabis remains controversial and, apparently, newsworthy. As reviews of the effects of cannabinoids proliferate, authors, editors, journal staff, and journalists might welcome a reminder that cautions about interpretation need to be spelled out in more effusive, detailed, and thorough ways.
Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D.
University at Albany
Department of Psychology
Chair, NORML Board of Directors
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)
Amanda Reiman, Ph.D.
Drug Policy Alliance
1) Whiting PF, Wolff RF, et al. Cannabinoids for Medical Use: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA, 2015: 313(24):2456-2473
2) Seaman, AM. Medical marijuana: good evidence for some diseases, weak for others. Reuters. June 24, 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/23/us-marijuana-medical-evidence-idUSKBN0P31WT20150623
As first reported by Marijuana.com, a Justice Department internal memo distributed to U.S. House Representatives last year misinformed members on the scope of a medical marijuana amendment they were voting on.
Last year, lawmakers approved 219 to 189 an amendment aimed at prohibiting the Department of Justice from using funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws.
We have now learned that in the days before this vote, Justice Department officials distributed “informal talking points” incorrectly warning members that the amendment could “in effect, limit or possibly eliminate the Department’s ability to enforce federal law in recreational marijuana cases as well.” The realization came from a footnote contained in the memo stating that the talking points previously released were, “intended to discourage the passage of the rider but does not reflect our current thinking.”
The talking points seemed to have an effect on several members, who prior to the final vote on the amendment, argued against it claiming the “amendment as written would tie the DEA’s hands beyond medical marijuana.” Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) went on to claim, “The problem is that the way the amendment is drafted, in a state like Maryland which has medical marijuana, if we ever legalized it, the amendment would stop the DEA from going after more than medical marijuana.”
These statements coupled with the rest of the long debate that took place before the amendment, clearly signal that lawmakers on both sides of the argument believed the amendment to prohibit federal interference in states with medical marijuana.
However, in a very narrow interpretation of the amendment, the Justice Department memo claims that the restriction of federal funds for the use of interfering in state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs is strictly for states and state officials implementing the laws themselves. That is to say, the federal government would still be allowed to arrest and prosecute people who grow marijuana and operate dispensaries but the state officials issuing the licenses are protected from federal intrusion. This explains the continued action taken by the federal government against individuals in states with legal medical marijuana laws on the books.
The same amendment protecting medical marijuana states from federal intervention was passed again this year with a larger margin of support, 242-186.
Representatives Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Farr (D-CA) (sponsors of the medical marijuana amendment) requested last week the Department of Justice’s inspector general hold an internal investigation into the continued action taken by the federal government. They feel Congress has made it clear by passing the amendment two years in a row, federal funds should no longer be used to prosecute individuals acting in compliance with their state laws.
Currently 23 states and the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws. Check out our State Info page to check on your state’s current marijuana laws.