Cannabis is a psychoactive drug that is derived from the plant Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica. It is mainly used for medicinal or leisure purposes. The other name for this drug is marijuana. Tetrahydrocannabinol is the main active ingredient found in the dried leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds of the plant. Despite having medicinal purposes, marijuana is the most commonly abused drug in the United States of America (Han et al., 2017).
Therefore, there exist regulations to govern its use even for medicinal purposes. Nonetheless, some of these laws are unfavorable hence the development of bill “H.R.1687 – To amend title 5, United States Code, to remove limitations on Federal employment for an individual legally using marijuana under the law of the State in which the individual resides, and for other purposes” (US Congress House Committee on Oversight and Reform, 2019).
This bill is currently in the introductory phase. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the potential impact of this regulation, associated problems, proponents and opponents of the bill, and alternative strategies to shape the bill before implementation.
An Analysis of the Proposed Regulation
The Controlled Substance Act (CSA) categorizes all substances that are regulated under the federal into five main schedules from I to V. The classification is determined by the medical applications of the substance, the likelihood of abuse, as well as safety and dependence liability. Schedule I drugs include highly regulated substances without a medically accepted use and whose safety under medical supervision is unknown.
Marijuana falls under this schedule of drugs, including other substances like heroin, mescaline, ecstasy, methaqualone, and lysergic acid diethylamide. The CSA reserves the right to move a substance from one schedule to another. The CSA does not distinguish between medical and recreational use of marijuana. Doctors are not permitted to prescribe marijuana for any medical use. However, the First Amendment permits them to recommend its use (Hergenrather, Robinson, & Gardner, 2016).
The ramifications of breaking cannabis laws are grave and could lead to serious punishment. Hence, medical complications cannot be accepted as a defense in such cases. Therefore, the passing of this legislation has social, political, and economic impacts on consumers, medical providers, and healthcare organizations.
A political ramification of this legislation arises from discrepancies in state laws concerning the use of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. Some states in the USA have legalized the use of marijuana for leisure purposes, including the District of Colombia, California, Michigan, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Nevada, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maine. In Michigan, a ballot led to the passage of a law allowing persons aged 21 and older to buy and possess marijuana for recreational use (Chen et al., 2018).
Conversely, the drug can be used for recreational purpose in Vermont by adults. However, the sale of the drug for recreational use is not permitted. Other states permit the restricted use of medical marijuana under specified circumstances. Therefore, medical marijuana laws are broader in some states than others. Despite all these regulations, positive drug tests for marijuana has serious implications for employees and job applicants. Given that these states have legalized the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, albeit with specific restrictions, imposing limitations on federal employment of people from these states exhibits a conflict of interest given that their specific state laws allow them to use cannabis for recreational or medical purposes.
Changing laws concerning the use of marijuana creates legal quandaries for legislators and employers who subject applicants and workers to drug tests, which has economic effects. The federal law holds that marijuana is illegal. Therefore, managers in businesses that are under the regulation of the federal government are compelled to test their personnel arbitrarily and incorporate drug testing as part of their recruitment process.
For employers who are not under federal regulation, there is no requirement for drug testing. However, certain states and local governments still insist on laws regulating drug testing. For healthcare organizations that rely on federal funding, failing to test prospective employees for controlled Schedule I substances during recruitment and during employment can compromise their funding.
The social impact of this legislation relates to the right to work in conducive settings. Overall, employers retain the legal right to uphold a drug-free work environment. Therefore, they are authorized to subject their applicants and workers to drug tests provided there is clear communication about the firm’s drug testing policies beforehand, which includes pre-employment testing and subsequent random testing. Employers may also have to make conditional employment offers pending the outcomes of a drug test.
These requirements can be included in the job description or be clearly stated in the employee guidebook, which an employee should read, understand, and sign before being hired. Passing the proposed legislation would mean that employers with such regulations would be forced to change their employment policies to do away with such restrictions for workers on medical marijuana.
Potential Benefits and Problems Associated with the Implementation of the Statute
Most case laws regarding the use of medical marijuana in the workplace (including the Americans with Disabilities Act) support the employer in cases where employees using medical marijuana mount legal challenges against bosses who reject employees with positive drug tests at recruitment (Stringham, Allard, Knapp, & Minor, 2017). Such support is usually provided even in cases where patients possess a medical marijuana card.
For example, compensation cannot be given to a patient who was under the influence of marijuana at the time of an accident. Furthermore, state insurance plans do not cover the cost of medical marijuana. Nevertheless, some states safeguard the wellbeing of employees and shield them against the disciplinary consequences of medical marijuana use. The law sides with employers given that it considers marijuana an illegal Schedule I substance without an acceptable medical use.
Therefore, even in states that have legalized medical marijuana, federal law takes the place of state legislation. The enactment of this statute would make it possible for employees to be protected by state and federal laws for medical marijuana use. The implementation of the statute will remove employment obstacles for patients on medical marijuana and allow them to have stable jobs.
A potential public health problem associated with the implementation of the statute is the abuse of medical marijuana or the drug in general. Marijuana use among teenagers is linked to adverse effects such as more fatal vehicle accidents, respiratory illnesses, inadvertent injuries, psychotic disorders, hampered brain development, and poor cognitive functioning. These problems may persist into adulthood and decrease the attainment of education, increase criminal activities, imprisonment, and drug dependency (Wang, Heard, & Roosevelt, 2017).
The legalization of marijuana in different states led to a substantial increase in the prevalence of comorbid psychiatric disorders and drug use among adolescents (Wang et al., 2017). Consequently, more teenagers presented to the emergency departments of hospitals for marijuana-related problems. Paschall, Grube, and Biglan (2017) also reported that the legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use in Oregon led to an increase in marijuana growers, which in turn increased the number of youths abusing the drug.
The legalization of marijuana influenced positive perceptions on marijuana use that contributed to its abuse among the youths. Furthermore, the legalization of medical marijuana is sometimes linked with permission to grow the plant at home for medicinal purposes, which makes it easier for other healthy people to access the drug and abuse it. Given this trend, there is a likelihood that passing and enacting H.R.1687 will lead to an increase in the number of employees claiming medical marijuana use in the workplace.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) forbids employers from showing bias against competent persons because of disability. The act expects employers to make room for sensible adjustments for workers with disabilities. Patients who receive medical marijuana have some form of disability that is acknowledged under the ADA. Imposing limitations on people using medical marijuana in the workplace goes against the protections provided by the ADA. People who are sacked from their jobs for positive marijuana drug tests despite having a medical marijuana card can be considered victims of workplace discrimination and can seek redress under ADA.
Proponents and Opponents of the Proposed Statute and the Reasons for Their Support or Opposition
Given that the statute was introduced less than a month ago, many people or groups of people have not yet stepped forward to support or oppose it officially. Some of the expected proponents of the bill include employees in states where marijuana use is legal and veterans. In contrast, opponents of the bill include employers and organizations that support the fight against drug use. The main argument in favor of the regulation is that the extensive ban on federal employees does not make sense when at least 46 states have implemented laws that clash with the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Another argument in favor of the legislation is that criminalizing medical marijuana in federal agencies affects veterans disproportionately because they are more likely to use medical marijuana than the rest of the population. A significant number of veterans use marijuana to alleviate symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which has been approved by various state regulations (Bonn-Miller & Rousseau, 2018). Even though no studies have been conducted to ascertain the prevalence of the use of medical marijuana among veterans, the available data have been obtained by following trends in VA health care.
Proponents of the legislation reason that medical marijuana is beneficial in improving the quality of lives of patients living with chronic conditions such as cancer. For example, cannabidiol (CBD) oil that is obtained from marijuana has been reported to have vast beneficial health effects such as pain relief, reducing anxiety and depression, in the treatment of acne, skin cancer, and psoriasis, and the alleviation of cancer-associated symptoms such as queasiness and vomiting (Hande, 2019).
CBD oil is thought to be a better alternative to benzodiazepines in treating anxiety disorders and depression because it does not cause side effects such as addiction and substance abuse. Thus, the use of CBD oil leads to therapeutic upshots without the psychoactive effects associated with THC in marijuana. However, despite the positive effects of CBD, insurance companies do not fund its use. Decriminalizing of medical marijuana at the federal level would permit eligible patients with chronic conditions to cultivate their own marijuana and make CBD oil if they cannot afford the commercially available version.
The Drug-free Solutions Group is an organization that focuses on preventing substance abuse at the workplace. Christine Clearwater, who is the current president of the association stated that the legalization of marijuana should not be used as an excuse for relaxed employer drug policies. She asserts that employers should be familiar with specific facts concerning the legalization of marijuana use. For example, marijuana is an addictive drug whose potency has increased 10 to 20-fold its original strength in the 1960s and 70s. Additionally, the incidence of car crashes continues to triple as more states legalize marijuana. Therefore, Clearwater stated that employers should make sound business decisions by disregarding legal, moral, and ethical concerns when drafting workplace policies related to marijuana.
Clearwater’s argument is based on the impact of marijuana on workplace safety. THC, the active ingredient in the drug, is known to alter the perception of depth, impair synchronization and motor skills, produce sensory distortion, and modify reaction times (National Safety Council, 2019).
These effects are potentially disastrous for individuals whose work involves operating machinery such as forklifts or vehicles. The National Institute of Drug Abuse reported that workers who tested positive for marijuana were more likely to cause industrial accidents, sustain injuries, and be absent from work than those who tested negative for the drug (National Safety Council, 2019). The use of marijuana at work was also associated with high turnover, low levels of productivity, lawsuits, and high expenditures on worker compensation and unemployment compensation claims.
Employers in industries that require high levels of safety are also likely to oppose the legislation for the reasons already mentioned. In addition, the legalization of marijuana in certain states has made it difficult for employers to find workers who can satisfy the strict drug-testing criteria. As a result, employers are compelled to look for eligible workers from different states. Currently, marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug that is usually detected during workplace drug testing.
This observation has been the case despite the federal government considering marijuana a banned Schedule I substance and placing workplace restrictions on its medical use. Therefore, implementing this statute is likely to make matters worse.
One argument against the implementation of the legislation is the fact that the federal government still considers marijuana illicit at the federal level. Violating any federal law is an offense that could lead to the termination of federal employment. Opponents of the bill argue that employees who do not wish to be held liable to a higher standard are not obliged to work in the federal bureaucracy. Others contend that employers are responsible for establishing employment standards and that drug enforcement rules can apply in all workplaces at the state and federal level regardless of whether or not the bill is passed by the federal government.
Alternative Strategies to Amend the Statute or Shape its Implementation
Given that the legalization of marijuana in many states has led to adverse effects such an increase in cases of emergency room visits linked to marijuana use, there is a need for alternative strategies to smooth the implementation of this statute. I do not think that the statute in itself requires any modifications in terms of phrasing because it clearly states that limitations will be lifted on federal employment of patients on medical marijuana use. However, there is a need to enact wide-ranging directed marijuana education and prevention programs for young people, especially those with coexistent drug use and mental illness.
Creating increased awareness about drug policies to the public is likely to eliminate some of the legal battles that employers encounter while trying to enforce drug policies at their places of work. For example, potential employees should be made aware of the drug policies of specific employers during early stages such as in job advertisements. This move will ensure that the prospective employee is ready to bear the consequences of a positive drug test before seeking employment in a particular firm and will avoid the misinterpretation of denied employment as discrimination.
Despite lifting limitations on federal employment for staff members legally using medical marijuana, it is still important to ensure workplace safety by guaranteeing the sanity and mental stability of all workers. Then again, it is wrong to consider someone with a positive THC test as being intoxicated or “high” without quantifying the levels of the compound at the time the test was administered. Therefore, there is a need to implement laws that protect patients on medical marijuana against this form of discrimination, particularly under the medical marijuana programs in states that permit its use for clinical purposes.
In addition, there is a need for specialized screening techniques that use blood to determine the precise quantities of THC during screening. Such tests would facilitate the differentiation of workers who are using medical marijuana correctly from workers who take advantage of their medical marijuana card to abuse the drug. Laws to reduce this type of workplace discrimination are being created to protect those using medical marijuana under the state’s medical marijuana program.
For the statute to be implemented smoothly, it is important to clear some of the doubts surrounding the use of medical marijuana. The federal government persists that marijuana does not have any medical benefits and is addictive. There is no doubt about the potential of marijuana to cause habituation and addiction. However, there is vast evidence showing the medicinal value of certain marijuana extracts. Additional studies should be conducted to provide sufficient evidence showing the medical benefits of marijuana. Certain strains of the plant are thought to have more medicinal value than others. More studies should also be conducted in this area to ascertain the correct dosing of the drug to justify its legalization for medicinal use.
Marijuana is a controversial drug with psychoactive and therapeutic properties, which means that it can be used for medical or recreational purposes. Its high potential for addiction and abuse have led to its classification as an illegal Schedule I drug by the CSA. Therefore, the federal law prohibits its use in medicine or leisure even though 46 states in the US have passed laws that legalize the drug for medical purposes and in some states, for recreation. H.R.1687 of 2019 seeks to change title 5 of the United States Code to eliminate restrictions on federal hiring of people using marijuana legally under state laws where the people live. Proponents of the bill hope that it will be passed to eliminate moral, ethical, and legal dilemmas that employers face while trying to enforce workplace drug policies.
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