The D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser are focusing on how city agencies are applying policies on medical marijuana, which has been legal in the District since 2010.
The scrutiny comes amid reports that some agencies prohibit employees from using medicinal marijuana, which runs counter to D.C. Department of Human Resources policy.
A handful of Department of Public Works employees received letters last week indicating that they have 30 days to find treatment to use instead of medical marijuana, according to a DCist report. The letters did not specify what would happen otherwise.
In addition, Quincy Booth, director of the Department of Corrections, recently told the council in a letter that his agency does not allow employees any use of controlled substances, including for medical purposes.
“The fact is medical marijuana is just like any other medication, and to treat it differently is a vestige of a War on Drugs mentality that this body has continually tried to change,” said council member David Grosso, at-large independent and a medical marijuana user.
Last week, Mr. Grosso withdrew emergency legislation that would have protected the employment of city workers who use medical marijuana, citing a lack of support from other lawmakers.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, at-large independent, agreed to revisit the emergency legislation at a meeting on June 18.
Meanwhile, the mayor’s office is examining the city government’s medical marijuana policy.
“Mayor Bowser has directed the Mayor’s Office of Policy and the Office of General Counsel — in coordination with the Department of Human Resources — to perform a top-to-bottom review of our marijuana testing policy,” said the mayor’s press secretary, Susana Castillo. “While the review is underway, employees are encouraged to speak with their HR adviser should they have questions about their agency’s policy.”
A staffer in the mayor’s office said employees who operate heavy machinery or have safety-sensitive jobs can’t use anything that would impair them, including the Metropolitan Police Department and the D.C. Fire & Emergency Medical Services Department.
Clarissa Rucker, a public information officer with D.C. Department of Human Resources, said three categories of employees are drug-tested — those who have safety-sensitive jobs, those who show signs of on-the-job impairment and those who are involved in an accident at work.
Thirty-three states and the District have legalized medicinal marijuana, which remains illegal by the federal government as a controlled substance. The Drug Enforcement Administration lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug, which means it is considered having a high potential for abuse and no medical use. Other Schedule I drugs are heroin, LSD and peyote.
However, some doctors dispute the DEA’s conclusion that marijuana has no medical use and say they prescribe it because it is a safer, more effective medication for their patients.
“There are certain medications out there with really bad side effect profiles,” said Dr. Chintu Sharma, an internal medicine/pediatrics specialist in Silver Spring.
For example, benzodiazepines, opiates and narcotics can cause respiratory arrest, Tylenol can cause liver failure, all for which marijuana can be prescribed instead, he said.
“If they are doing a low dose, well below the threshold of any sort of high or impairment, it shouldn’t affect their ability to do their job, it should enhance it,” Dr. Sharma said.
Dr. Matthew Mintz, an internist in Bethesda, has seen medical marijuana help people who have insomnia, anxiety, chronic pain and arthritis, for example.
“There is a component of impairment, if you take enough of it, it can make you high and it can make you sleepy.” Dr. Mintz said. “The same is true for other non-illegal substances, the same is true for alcohol, antihistamines, Benadryl and Claritin.”
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