“Until it is decriminalized, federal employees, contractors and those like me who hold clearances can’t get near the stuff in any capacity.”
– Anonymous commenter on @BrandiJeter’s Instagram post about using cannabis.
The beginning of 2020 shot off like a rocket. Both of my children were in school and had various activities. My husband’s work schedule was busy which put a strain on me as a parent. And I had my own personal and professional obligations. When everything stopped in March due to the global pandemic. I recognized just how close I had been to a breakdown…a narrow miss that I was grateful for.
At first I was fine. I appreciated the slower pace of the lockdown. I liked being able to spend time with my husband and kids while I worked. We watched movies in between Zoom meetings, and explored local parks in the evenings after work and on the weekends. It was pretty magical.
Eventually, though, reality set in. My work responsibilities increased because everyone everywhere was stretched. Being at home all the time was negatively affecting my children and husband. And depression and anxiety kicked in for me, rapidly increasing, until I was regularly sitting in my car in the parking lot of the local grocery store having panic attacks. No amount of bread baking, hikes, or Zoom happy hours could fix what was happening with me.
Anti-anxiety medication, therapy, a change in diet — I tried everything but nothing helped. With every other potential solution exhausted, I turned to cannabis for the first time ever. I even shared about it on social media.
I did not once consider what my employer would think about it. But given the evolving legal status of cannabis use, employers need to be thinking about it…and potentially making policy about it.
The evolving status of legalization in the country
Marijuana use became illegal in 1937 in the United States. Henry J. Ainslinger was the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics at the time, and he kicked off a war on drugs (powered by racism and ego) that resulted in the Marihuana Tax Act being passed making, marijuana illegal across the country.
Although the Marihuana Tax Act was repealed in 1969, Ainslinger’s efforts to criminalize marijuana paid off for decades and spurred racial disparity in marijuana arrests that ruined the lives of countless Black Americans.
Criminalization also helped create an infrastructure around employers drug-testing their employees, which continued after the Act was repealed…especially spurred on in the 80s by Ronald Reagan requiring it for federal workers, and peaking in the 90s. Millions of employees now found themselves having to hide marijuana use as a condition of employment.
Drug tests as part of the pre-employment process were common when I was a college graduate in the early 2000s, even though the roles I sought didn’t require operating vehicles, heavy machinery, or really any other activity that might be impaired if I had smoked a joint the night before.
The truth is, I wasn’t at risk for failing a drug test. I grew up in the era where Nancy Reagan implored us to “Just Say No” and a black and red D.A.R.E. logo was what all of the cool kids were wearing. Between that and the fact that my parents were addicts, I had a staunch “no drugs” policy and never wanted to touch the stuff.
Ironically, twenty-something years later, I ended up living in California and voting for marijuana to become legal for recreational use.
California was the first state to decriminalize cannabis for medicinal use in 1996. In 2016, it became legal for recreational use. At this writing, there are 37 states where medicinal use of marijuana is legal, and 18 where people can imbibe just for fun.
What does this legal patchwork mean for employees and employers?
With teams dispersed all over, especially since the pandemic struck, and many employees likely working from home permanently, companies need to review their policies regarding marijuana use, and the parameters they will address. Almost half of American adults live in a state where it has been legalized. In states where it’s legal it might be treated much the same as alcohol in employee policy, but will this create inequities for employees living in states where it’s not legal… yet?
Calling in an experienced consultant to help develop policies based in current and real life use cases rather than outdated beliefs and misinformation is important. While companies obviously have to follow state and federal laws, I want to challenge companies to get involved in marijuana policy in their states and at the federal level.
Why cannabis seems made for this moment
The pandemic plus the pace at which everything in our world is constantly changing has made folks work hard to keep up. The expectation of employees to be readily available at all times, the phenomenon of virality, and OMG so many distractions make it easy to get stressed and overstimulated.
Technology gives us the power to meet that pace, but most humans haven’t “evolved” to the point of juggling their careers, health, and familial obligations without some damage being done physically and mentally.
Many modern workers are turning away from pharmaceuticals to go green.
Marijuana, with its anxiety reducing and pain relieving qualities, has been proven to be an aid for some who need support while they run to meet deadlines, launch projects, and make sales.
How your employees are using cannabis
Some folks may smoke on the evenings and on the weekends, the same way others may consume alcohol. Some are microdosing edibles throughout their work day. From infused cannabis water to chocolate chip cookies that can get you high, the weed options of today are just as modern as the workers.
There are strains to help you sleep and others that will lead you into your creative flow. Many of my friends, especially creatives and ones in tech, say that marijuana eases their mind so that they can go deeper into their work.
Cannabis is helping people cope. The benefits were immediate for me. (And made me a better employee too.)
Seeing so many corporations get “woke” around employee wellbeing is inspiring. If employers educate themselves on marijuana’s history and benefits, they may decide that considering cannabis as a wellness tool, rather than just a drug, will have positive implications for their workforce.