Editor’s Note: Allie Haroutunian is a 25-year old chronic pan patient. She uses medical marijuana to address her chronic pain. She moved to Nevada from Georgia in order to more easily access medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Nevada since 2000. It is especially helpful in treating chronic illnesses including pain, nausea, seizures, hot/cold sweats, withdrawal symptoms, anxiety, migraines, among others. For me, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, yet despite this fact; medical marijuana is still a pitchfork issue between states and the federal government. The existence of the law has not impacted the application of the law in our culture, which still exists under archaic cultural taboos that ignore the essence of legalization leaving patients having to protect themselves against antiquated norms that neither protect nor guide.
Use of medical marijuana presents legal risks, which we as patients assume, even in the twenty three states where it’s legal, or should I say technically legal... Since it’s not legal on the federal level an environment full of conflicting intentions exists.
In states where it’s legal, you can still be drug tested by doctors and employers. You can be arrested, charged, prosecuted, and sentenced for a drug crime related to possession and consumption. You can lose your job due to workplace protections for a drug-free environment, lose your health benefits, and medical care. If you’re a student, a drug charge on your record automatically disqualifies you from receiving any federal student aid (student loans, grants). Medical marijuana use can bias against any future employment opportunities, educational advancement, and medical treatment. There are very few industries adapting their hiring practices and workplace policies or medical office rules to reflect the legal status of medical marijuana.
As an example of how such risks play out in our culture, a story made national headlines on June 15th 2015, detailing how Dish Network fired a quadriplegic man, Brandon Coats, for smoking marijuana on his personal time, after work. He illustrated Dish Network’s (and most employers) myopic understanding of how to integrate the medical marijuana patient in the workplace, failing to consider situational [life] exceptions. Dish Network claimed that they were well within their legal rights to terminate, and that his marijuana use was violation of federal workplace standards. Despite Dish Network’s rights, they have taken a person who was trying to function in the world as a normal citizen, and live a semi-normal life with an injury that severely limits his ability to…actually live. This company, in effect, made him choose between his quality of life and a paying job.
This occurs often and is not limited to the workplace… An all too familiar example that the chronic pain community specifically encounters frequently relates to the list of “house rules” or policies given with new patient paperwork seen at any pain doctor’s office. One of these policies ban the use of illegal substances while under the care of that doctor, and most, if not all, will drug test. These policies are in place because of federal guidelines placed upon doctors who write prescription [narcotic] medications. Regardless, vocabulary like illegal substance perpetuates cultural attitudes that medical marijuana is not a legitimate medicine.
State cannabis laws don’t protect patients, who are forced to operate under a shroud of secrecy for fear exposure will lead to severe consequences. There are some very creative ways to get around the law, however that goes against the intent of laws. We aren’t supposed to be able to skirt the rules to avoid obtuse cultural norms that allow and ban possession and consumption in the same breath. Do we call into question the design of the law or the application of the law?
At some point our society is going to have to find a way to integrate the millions of people like me, who have modified their version of normal to accommodate life changing circumstances. There is an obvious reluctance in our culture to change federal classifications, however recognizing it’s benefits as medicine on a national level could lead to changing attitudes and eventual accommodation on a social level.
Think it’s time we changed that?
Follow on Twitter: