Monday, February 15, 2010

Tom's Story

Tom Ahern called me today. He was very upset that he was about to lose his job due to his medical marijuana use.

Tom was arrested in New York City five months ago. A passenger in Tom’s car had $20 worth of marijuana. Tom was arrested along with the passenger, even though the passenger insisted that the marijuana was his. The marijuana charge against Tom was dismissed—he was never found guilty of anything. But the New York City police contacted his employer. Tom is a blacksmith at the Belmont Racetrack in New York. He shoes horses for a living. As such, he must be licensed by the Wagering Board. The Wagering Board suspended Tom’s license due to his arrest and insisted that Tom complete a drug treatment program.

Tom enrolled in a drug treatment program in Long Island. He went for 13 weeks and had to pay $75 a week out of his own pocket. He passed half a dozen urine tests for drugs during that time. After the 12th week, the drug treatment program told him that he would have to attend an additional 13 weeks. They refused to tell him why. Angry and frustrated, Tom went home and smoked some marijuana for the first time in months. The next week, the drug treatment program tested Tom’s urine and Tom tested positive. Now he was told that he had failed the program altogether and the program was going to report that to his employer.

Tom asked me what he could do. Though he works in New York, he lives in New Jersey, and he knows that New Jersey just passed a medical marijuana law. Could I refer him to a doctor who could get him an ID card? Tom said that he uses marijuana to treat his depression and anxiety. No, I explained. The law just passed and it will not be implemented until July 2010. It will be the Department of Health that will issue the ID cards, based on a physician’s certification that the patient has a qualifying condition. The New Jersey law is very restrictive. Tom’s medical conditions, depression and anxiety, would not qualify him to use marijuana in New Jersey.

I asked Tom if he was ever treated by a doctor for these conditions. He said no, he had tried tranquilizers and anti-depressants and hated the way they made him feel. A few tokes of marijuana in the evening, though, was all he needed to lift his spirits, ease his anxiety, and make him feel human again. I suggested Tom talk to his physician and tell him that he has been self-medicating for these conditions. There may come a time when New Jersey does recognize that marijuana is a safe and effective treatment for a wide variety of mental disorders. But right now, New Jersey only allows marijuana for a few physical conditions. In the meantime I suggested that Tom hire a lawyer, who may be able to argue his case before the Wagering Board.

Tom was forced into a drug treatment program merely for sitting next to a person who had marijuana on him. Then Tom used marijuana, while off duty, to treat a medical condition and he may lose his job for that. The tyranny of these drug treatment programs is yet one more example of the social injustice that Tom faced. That Tom could arbitrarily, and without explanation, be forced to extend his program for another 13 weeks represents nothing short of greed and cruelty on their part. To force anyone into a substance abuse treatment program for marijuana use is absurd, when you consider that marijuana is less addicting than caffeine. According to a new report issued by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly six out of ten individuals enrolled in drug treatment for marijuana were referred there by the criminal justice system. Treatment statistics show that over 37 percent of the nearly three hundred thousand people who entered drug treatment for marijuana in 2007 had not reported using it in the 30 days previous to their admission.

Substance abuse treatment programs for marijuana use are worse than a rip-off. They can literally destroy lives.


  1. Tom pissed someone off and is now playing for it, it's not 'right', but what happened to tom was all his own fault. The key here will be lobbying the NJDoH to add additional conditions over time.

    That will require not just those in need but a good number of MD's to put their names behind such efforts.

  2. Pot has been used in America to keep many minorities down and in jail subservient to our government and always paying the man in charge - the government, the authorities but think about this. With ever pound of heroin our police forces seize where does it go? Do they throw it down the toilet? No way - these cops sell it to people who can afford inflated prices - rich people. Like robin hood they are - taking from the poor and giving to the rich at a price - the reverse robin hoods or just plain "hoods".

    So if drugs were legalized - then that would pretty much get rid of a lot of innocent people rotting in jail for smoking a joint or selling one or whatever. Our laws are greedy and archiac and the tyranny must stop. I disagree with KNIGHT - Tom's arrest was not his fault - how was he supposed to know his friend had an ounce of pot on him. Association does not make you guilty and it's not fair to report this to his employer. If Tom gets fired he's out of work and unemployable and if I were him - I'd sue the cops and his employer for false accusations.

  3. I would take your conspiracy theory one step further and say that some members of the military are bringing in drugs. Our gov knows about everything coming across the borders. There's too much money involved for it NOT to happen. History always repeats itself.