Marijuana Prohibition and Law Enforcement Officers: Effective Medicine & Alternative to Alcohol As Stress Reliever, Denied.

There’s a raucous row in New York City right now about a police sergeant assigned to Gracie Mansion failing a drug test for pot and claiming that the sample was accidentally snipped from her weave and not her own locks. Later, a DNA test refuted this claim.

Sgt. Tracy Gittens emphatically stated, “I do not do drugs.” Could the test have shown a false positive if the sergeant had merely been around sufficient clouds of secondhand cannabis smoke? Do we even have the research to disprove her claim?

"Nubian Badassery" photo credit: carlos newsome

“Nubian Badassery” photo credit: carlos newsome

After all, in New York City, marijuana is decriminalized, and it is possible that the law enforcement officer in question had been at someone’s home, maybe a barbecue, out at a bar or elsewhere, where marijuana smoke was billowing in great pungent mini-cumulus clouds from those around her.

It’s not quite so uncommon a scent and scene, even among friends and family of police officers in New York City. Cannabis isn’t heroin, seriously.  Should law enforcement officers not socialize, for fear that marijuana may show up in a drug screening merely because they inhaled some secondhand smoke, far less than would even have a noticeable effect?

"Storm Approaching NYC" image credit: Andrew Dallos.

“Storm Approaching NYC” image credit: Andrew Dallos.

What if the officer had walked into an apartment where a suspect had just “puffed a blunt?” Or, if her mother, whom she provides care to, is a valid medical-marijuana recipient in New Jersey, where cannabis may be legally smoked as medicine? Those scenarios may also produce false positives in the future, for other LEOs. Beware!

Medical Marijuana is legal in New Jersey, New York, and in more than half of US states, while decriminalization is also fairly widespread, and growing steadily with time. Each state has its own rules and regulations, to be sure. While this is true, there’s an unlikely paradox, as the plant is still a Federally Controlled Substance, Schedule I, with no acknowledged medical use.

Of course, anecdotal accounts, as well as many recent studies, suggest otherwise. At this point in the evolution of our understanding of marijuana’s cannabinoid phytochemical activity, it’s highly likely that the US government will one day (soon) update this scheduling in the face of overwhelming facts to the contrary. Keeping things as they are just empowers and enriches the cartels, and cooler heads will prevail and see this is a poor plan.

Is cannabis a healthier recreational choice than alcohol? Research suggests this may well be so, as cannabis is a neuroprotectant, rather than a neurotoxin, like alcohol. (Cannabis actually protects your brain cells, although it has a reputation for killing them!) And, it holds a myriad of other potential health benefits, rather than health hazards, like alcohol consumption does. Even so, the fact remains: it’s illegal. Of course, police officers are going to gravitate toward the legal alternatives when it concerns their own personal choice of mind alterants.

Medical Cannabis Growing Operation in Oakland, California. image credit: Rusty Blazenhoff

Medical Cannabis Growing Operation in Oakland, California. image credit: Rusty Blazenhoff

Policing is a high stress job. Many of my relatives have served in this profession since before I was born and I’ve witnessed firsthand the toll police work takes on the individual and the stress it can place on a family.  These are just some of the sacrifices made.

It’s normal to seek relaxation during off-hours; many cops enjoy drinking as a social activity among their friends and fellow police officers. However, alcoholism and “problem drinking” behaviors among police officers is high, attributable to the high-stress nature of the job, as well as social factors.  While alcohol is an effective social glue, it can also cause problems with health, personal relationships, and even job performance.

Communications Division, New York Police Department. image credit: André Gustavo Stumpf

Communications Division, New York Police Department.
image credit: André Gustavo Stumpf

What about the law enforcement officers who might rather try eating a cannabis-infused cookie than drinking whiskey after work? Realistically, the risks are just too numerous. However, we’re not talking at all about health risks. A positive random drug test could mean real problems for a police officer, like disciplinary action or worse. Therefore law enforcement officers cannot consume cannabis, even if it’s medically necessary.

Marijuana produces fat-soluble by-products that stay in the body for up to a month. This is, by far, longer than any other controlled substance, most of which filter out of the blood in mere days. At the very least, all municipal workers should be permitted to use medical marijuana if a physician prescribes it; of course, this still leaves alcohol as the only real choice, when it comes to non-medical social use.

Cookies. Oliver Laudmann

image credit: Oliver Laudmann

Is this a good thing? Would rates of alcoholism fall if drug testing for cannabis were abolished? Anyone old enough can tell tales of how the private sector, as well as many jobs serving the public, began drug testing in the 1980s. I’ve heard many such stories, from people who worked at all sorts of occupations.

Some more resourceful  people devised crazy schemes to pass the tests, from adulterating the sample with salt to render the test ineffective, to using prosthetic simulated body parts attached to a hidden bag of urine, substituting “clean” urine from their drug-averse sister taped to the abdomen to keep the fluid warm, once companies caught on and began making sure nothing shady was going on and started watching employees pee.

Many more people likely decided the risk-to-reward ratio was not worth the effort and shifted from consuming cannabis and alcohol to strictly using alcohol. While this surely helped the bottom line of liquor companies throughout the land, it’s doubtful that this had any tangible benefit to the worker or hiring body, as alcohol has worse degenerative effects on health and society than marijuana, by far. At the very least, alcohol can be lethal in sufficient quantity, while cannabis cannot ever be lethal, regardless of dose.

Whiskey. image credit: Scott

Whiskey. image credit: Scott

Presently, some companies in states where cannabis is now legal for medicinal and/or recreational use, are discontinuing drug testing for marijuana, with 66% testing for cannabiniods, down from 77% the prior year in Colorado, one such state.  Do we really care if a bureaucrat at some digital service company avoids smoking a joint every Friday night while watching TV and instead has a Michelob? Or, that the Customer Care manager at that big media concern on main street stops eating weed brownies before going out to the movies, instead bringing the good old flask of whiskey to get the job done?

Do you think in the short or the long term, this will help the employee or the company or the consumer, in any way? Not to mention, it seems weird to even care what employees do on their weekends, let alone have the employee undergo the demeaning and weird experience of not only having to submit a urine sample, but being watched the entire time, as well. Creepy!

In summary, what could be said now is what could be said always. While Sergeant Gittens stated that she did not use drugs, what she really meant was that she does not use illegal drugs. More than likely, she drinks alcohol socially, maybe even nurses a few cups of coffee each harrowing day. These other substances are, in fact, drugs. Some might even be inclined to include refined sugar in the group.

"Into The Back" image credit: Halahmoon

“Into The Back”
image credit: Halahmoon

Either way, our societal concepts of what constitutes a “drug” and what drugs should be permitted and forbidden, should reflect science, namely anthropology and sociology, as well as psychology, pharmacology, and real data from sound medical studies covering all medical aspects. Only then will we have a culture where we understand that not all drugs are illegal, and not all legal drugs as risk-free.

Of course, drugs classified as legal should include substances that pose little to no risk to the user or society, the decision whether to prohibit uninfluenced by historical innuendo, racism, or classism, as these have no place in America.  Nor should any sort of prohibition serve to benefit as a boon to alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceutical concerns, or any other financial entities, at the expense of our citizens’ free choices, as well as the sound judgement of their physicians.

Authored by D Alban. © Copyright 2018 D ALBAN, H MILLER.

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