The Danger of Synthetic Cannabis

On the potentially lethal subject of synthetic weed, the news, since legalization, is better, but still not great.

Though not wholly harmless, cannabis itself hasn’t killed anyone through overdose or misadventure. But cannabis prohibition absolutely has a body count. Between 2016 and 2019, at least 61 Americans died after exposure to synthetic cannabinoids, according to recent research conducted by scientists at Washington State University and published in the journal Clinical Toxicology.

Many more have become violently ill or wracked with disturbing mental or psychological trauma after using synthetic cannabis, with more than 64 percent of 7,600 documented exposures over that time frame requiring medical attention, the study found. (These figures don’t capture the full scope of the problem; synthetic cannabinoids are difficult to detect and use is often only detected after the user is in the hospital or the morgue.)

A broad term used generally to describe a range of potent chemicals, intended to mimic natural plant-based cannabinoids and to bind to many of the same receptors—but in some cases, up to 100 times more powerful; the difference in impact comparable “to the difference between a hose hooked up to a fire hydrant versus a faucet with a slow drip,” in the words of Dr. Patricia Frye, a Maryland-based physician and cannabis expert. “Synthetic cannabis” is banned under federal and most state law. (Plant-derived cannabis products created via chemical synthesis, including Delta-8 THC and Delta-10 THC, aren’t in this product category.)

Though not a priority for law enforcement, who still arrested hundreds of thousands of Americans for marijuana possession in 2020, synthetic cannabis is notorious stuff. Most often appearing in large cities, fake weed was the ultimate culprit behind a so-called “zombie outbreak” in 2016 in New York City, after several dozen people exhibited the same troubling dis-associative symptoms after smoking a particularly nasty “incense” product called “AK-47” Karat Gold.

Why would anyone use such dangerous and toxic stuff? And how can policymakers discourage such self-harm and solve what researchers described to Cannabis Now as a “serious health threat”?

The obvious answer will not shock you.

Nobody Really Likes Synthetic Weed, But…

Initially created in labs to understand how cannabinoid receptors work, synthetic cannabis was never intended for use in humans. And perhaps owing to the nasty side effects, synthetic cannabis use isn’t widespread.

Natural cannabis is far more popular. Even the estimated 0.2 to 0.4 percent of the population who do admit to using synthetic weed say they’d prefer natural cannabis.

However, there’s some societal “encouragement” for synthetic cannabis use: synthetic weed prohibition turns out to be difficult to enforce. Synthetic cannabis doesn’t contain THC. Users won’t show THC metabolites on a urine screening, and so drug tests can’t detect synthetic cannabis, the study noted. Thus, anyone in a position to want a buzz and avoid punishment for weed, including US service members, may decide that fake cannabis is worth the risk.

Users profiled in another recent study, from researchers based in Spain, confirm this ready common-sense explanation: Because drug tests don’t search for synthetic cannabinoids, meaning people worried about losing employment, housing, or other opportunities for a positive drug test are willing to risk serious consequences to achieve something like a weed-like buzz.

In other words, drug laws encourage drug users to risk great bodily and mental harm they wouldn’t otherwise risk. They say so themselves.

Synthetic cannabinoids “exist as a by-product of prohibition,” said Dr. Ethan Russo, a physician, neurologist and prominent researcher and author.

“Following the law of unintended consequences, the continued pervasiveness of urine drug screening for employment has stimulated the popular appeal of synthetic cannabinoids, which are not detectable on routine laboratory tests,” Russo told Cannabis Now. “The result is considerable attendant morbidity and mortality.”

In some places, this situation is getting worse. According to the researchers’ findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, “synthetic cannabinoids are increasingly gaining popularity and replacing traditional cannabis.”

However, that’s not the case in the US, where a simple and popular policy intervention leads to a decline in synthetic cannabinoid exposure (and related deaths and hospitalizations) of more than 37%. Only 5.5% of the synthetic cannabinoid poisonings tracked in the study occurred in states with legalization laws.

This magic public-health solution is allowing people to use cannabis safely and legally.

With Synthetic Cannabis, Legalization Saves Lives

As the Washington state researchers noted, synthetic cannabinoid exposures declined in the US starting in 2016—the same year that four states (California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada) legalized adult-use cannabis for adults 18 and over.

Of the exposures that were recorded, most–-56%–-occurred in states “with restrictive cannabis policies at the time of the exposure,” the researchers wrote. When a state passed a law with a more “permissive cannabis policy,” synthetic cannabinoid exposures reduced by 37%, they added.

This amounted to an “association” between “liberal policies (legalization) for natural cannabis and declines in reported synthetic cannabinoid poisonings,” they concluded. “This finding suggests a potential effect of policy change on substance use behaviors that may have long-term public health implications.”

Tracy Klein, the lead researcher and a professor in Washington State University’s College of Nursing, didn’t respond to a request for comment. But other experts, including Frye and Russo and Peter Grinspoon, a Boston-based physician and lecturer at Harvard Medical School, accepted the findings as a strong endorsement for cannabis legalization as a public-health intervention.

Synthetic cannabis harms people, but people don’t want to use it when natural cannabis is available. When natural cannabis is available, people don’t use it. Legalization saves lives. Could there be a simpler proposition?

“The rules of society have created this problem,” Russo said, “one that should no longer exist once a legal and regulated market for cannabis is established.”

“Legalizing cannabis, in the adult-use market, would certainly eliminate the need for experimenting with these potentially deadly chemicals,” Frye said.

The post The Danger of Synthetic Cannabis appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Can I Smoke Weed at Work?

With marijuana becoming legal in more and more states, the question has to be asked: Can we smoke cannabis at work? Smoke breaks are part of the regular pattern of Solonje Burnett’s workday, though where workers at an Amazon warehouse or a downtown office tower might look forward to state-mandated ten-minute pauses every few hours for coffee or cigarettes (or both), Burnett punctuates her day with cannabis. And everything seems to get done just fine.

“I’ve been on a mission to normalize puff (or joint) breaks while at work for years,” says the Brooklyn-based entrepreneur who is co-founder and CEO of Humble Bloom, a cannabis culture agency, as well as the co-founder and Chief Culture & Community Officer of Honeypottt, a cannabis-focused discounts and promotions management app. For Burnett, who stays plenty busy, cannabis is a key part of that productivity—just as much as updating her LinkedIn profile, hopping on Zoom meetings and attending networking events.

“Cannabis is the medicine I need to get through juggling the many tasks of a creative entrepreneur,” she says. “It’s a matter of maintaining balance, achieving focus, finding flow and staying in a calm, elevated mindset.”

Work and Weed

Though Burnett is self-employed and thus enjoys freedom from the rules that dictate the lives of hourly wage-earning employees, even if she were a worker bee, she has two things going for her. She’s in New York, where the legalization law specifically permits cannabis use wherever tobacco is allowed. And New York also expressly forbids employers from taking action against an employee for off-duty cannabis use. 

You can come back from a lunch break reeking of the joint you just stubbed out, and that’s not sufficient cause to fire a worker in the state, observed David C. Holland, a New York City-based defense attorney. Somewhat controversially, New York’s law also has no public-safety exemption—meaning an off-duty firefighter can use cannabis, whereas a subway operator or bus driver, who may be subject to post-accident testing should a mishap happen on the job, might have to think twice. (Cops could too, in theory, though a NYPD brass revoked an earlier order this summer granting cops that right.)

But not everyone else is so lucky as Solonje Burnett or as a New York City firefighter. As two-thirds of Americans live in states where cannabis can be legally possessed and consumed and the debate over criminalization shifts to Congress and the White House, certain key practical considerations remain unaddressed. 

These include balancing an employer’s right to create a functional and profitable working environment with employees’ rights to govern their own personal conduct. So, can you smoke cannabis at work? 

Worker Protections Lacking in Legalization

So-called “first-wave” legalization states such as Colorado and California don’t have the same protections for off-duty cannabis use as New Yorkers. (Cannabis culture is worth only so much.) This was a flaw that legalization advocates noted and addressed in later laws and have had to return to lawmakers to correct in states that legalized first.

In California, a bill protecting workers from termination for off-duty cannabis use in 2024 recently passed the state Legislature and is expected to be signed into law later this month, nothing in any state law in the country allows you to use cannabis during work hours. 

Yet, as Burnett and others contacted for this article observed, every workplace in America likely has someone under the influence of cannabis while on the clock.

But what does that mean, anyway? There’s a vast gap between responsible, mindful cannabis use to soothe anxiety or stimulate creativity and visible, disruptive intoxication—yet in workplace culture, the two are often treated as one and the same. 

That’s the nature of cannabis drug-testing, where a positive result famously reveals past consumption that may be days or weeks in the rear-view.

Use Weed, Get Fired

The law’s strength has yet to be tested in the courts, but in New York and New Jersey and other states where off-duty use is protected, the only way to get fired for cannabis use is to demonstrate intoxication as well as impaired performance. And that impairment must be clear.

“The odor of weed isn’t enough to get drug tested or disciplined,” said Holland, the New York attorney. “There has to be a clear and articulated observation that the worker isn’t performing up to speed.”

That, however, is also going to lead to problems in the form of lawsuits challenging dismissals, as employers seek to allege that a worker producing 100 widgets a day suddenly slipped to 85 because of cannabis—and attempt to prove it.

“You’re going to see a lot of fabricated claims,” Holland said. But one thing that won’t be tolerated, since it’s not protected, are smoke breaks like Burnett’s. Possession at work and use during work hours aren’t protected acts, so anyone who does like to consume during the day beware.

Unfinished Business

This weird list of conflicting bullet points—you can’t smoke marijuana on the job or during work hours, though many do; you can’t smoke weed at home in some states and be safe from ramifications after a drug-test, though for many, this will never be an issue—leaves anyone searching or offering practical advice in a bit of bind. 

But it also illustrates the incomplete project marijuana legalization remains, even in states where cannabis culture is deeply rooted. Policing cannabis at work is still a technique to control and punish workers. 

And given the different standards applied to blue-collar and service-industry workers compared to knowledge economy workers—many of whom are still comfortably working from home, enjoying the privileges granted during the COVID-19 pandemic, which may also include the freedom to indulge in cannabis—there are racial and classist divides at play, too.

Quiet Quitting

Though for now, in the great workplace debates around “quiet quitting” and dragging workers back to the dreary rigors of commutes, cubicles and business-casual, cannabis use hasn’t appeared as a dividing line quite yet.

“I haven’t heard any complaints, post-COVID or otherwise, about office workers being upset that their co-workers are smoking cannabis at work,” said Ellen Komp, the deputy director of California NORML, one of the chief sponsors of the workplace-protections bill currently awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature. 

This could partially be because employers are still in the process of summoning office workers back into the office—and only some employers at that. Many are content to let their workers remain at home several days out of the week, or all of it, if that’s what it takes to keep their people happy and productive.

As for co-working with cannabis, that’s a cultural shift that’s yet to take root, at least officially. For now, American workers will have to make do with a familiar status quo: uneven and unequal treatment, and some unclear directions under the law, rules and culture still struggling to adjust.

“Employers and co-working spaces need to recognize and release their biases,” Burnett said. “Many of us are already high in the workplace. It’s all about responsible conscious consumption.”

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U.S. Forest Service Employees Still Banned From Consuming Cannabis

On Aug. 22, the U.S. Forest Service Human Resources published a notice to remind employees that cannabis consumption is not allowed, even if they live in a state where it’s legal.

“Several states now allow recreational and or medicinal use of marijuana. However, marijuana is still an illegal drug per federal law,” the notice said. “All Forest Service employees must remain drug-free and refrain from illegal drug use whether on or off duty regardless of state laws. There have been no changes to the panel of drugs contained in the list of Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substance Act.”

The notice also listed the current rules for drug testing protocol. First, it warned that any employee can be subjected to drug testing for cannabis if there is “reasonable suspicion” that they have been consuming. Second, employees whose jobs are listed as Test Designated Positions (TDPs) will also continue to be drug tested. “Test Designated Positions generally carry safety or security responsibilities tied to the Forest Service mission. Job functions associated with TDPs relate to public health and safety, the protection of life and property, law enforcement, or national security.”

Finally, should an employee test positive for either cannabis or any other illegal substance they “will be subject to mandatory administrative actions per DR 4430-792-2, Drug-Free Workplace Program, which includes discipline up to removal for the first finding of illegal drug use.”

Although CBD was legalized nationwide through the 2018 Farm Bill, the U.S. Forest Service’s notice states that it is also off limits. “[CBD] can be inaccurately labeled as having no to low levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol, and yet actually contain high levels. If you use CBD, you could test positive for illegal drug use.”

Some U.S. Forest Service Employees are tasked with removing illegal cannabis plants found on national forest land, and cleaning up any trash or other materials left behind. However, in 2018 a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that after reviewing these sites, there was evidence that a proper cleanup was not conducted.

“We performed onsite inspections of eight marijuana grow sites that were eradicated in FYs 2014- 2016 in California and two marijuana grow sites in Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky,” the report states. “Hazardous materials were present at seven of the eight grow sites in California, and infrastructure such as irrigation piping, trash, or equipment were found at all eight sites. The hazardous material and infrastructure were still present several years after eradication for some of the grow sites.”

A study published in July 2019 found that legal cannabis can reduce illegal grows in national forests. “Arguably, our models hint that outright, national recreational cannabis legalization would be one means by which illegal grows on national forests could be made to disappear,” the researchers wrote. They also stated their belief that taxes on legal cannabis is what drives people to cultivate illegally on federal land.

Other agencies in the U.S. are also updating or reiterating current rules and restrictions of cannabis for employees. Last August, data showed that commercial truck drivers consumed cannabis more than any other substance. However in May 2022, the U.S Department of Transportation shared that 10,276 commercial truck drivers tested positive for cannabis, and this violation of the department’s rules contributed to a nationwide shortage of drivers who couldn’t keep their jobs. Most recently in August, draft rules were published on the Federal Register that warned medical examiners of commercial drivers that CBD could still contain THC, which is not allowed. “A driver who uses marijuana cannot be physically qualified even if marijuana is legal in the State where the driver resides for recreational, medicinal, or religious use,” the rules stated.

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Science Confirms: You Can’t Get High on CBD

Can CBD get you high?

It’s not quite right to say that CBD—or cannabidiol, which, after THC, is the best-known and most abundant cannabinoid (“active ingredient”) found in the cannabis plant—isn’t “psychoactive.” Of course, CBD has some effect on the mind; if it didn’t, why would CBD, which adherents say helps alleviate brain-powered problems including insomnia and anxiety, be so popular?

What is right is to say is that unlike THC, CBD is “non-intoxicating.” In fact, CBD is non-intoxicating to a such a degree that you can consume great gobs of the stuff and still be relied upon to safely operate a motor vehicle, according to a recent study.

So, can CBD get you high? No. However, this isn’t to say that CBD isn’t without some risks, biological as well as legal. Depending on what CBD formulation a patient is using, and depending on what state they’re in, they may indeed be able to operate a motor vehicle without any issue while on an epic amount of CBD — while still running the risk of a “cannabis DUI” charge. And depending on what other pharmaceuticals and other drugs a patient may be taking; CBD does carry some risks.

Safe at any Speed

In this most recent study, researchers in Australia—where doctors have written more than 55,000 prescriptions for medicinal CBD since medical cannabis was legalized in 2016—gave doses of either a placebo or synthetically derived CBD ranging from 15 milligrams to 1,500 milligrams to 17 study participants. Each participant was then asked to perform basic tasks in a driving simulator between 45 to 75 minutes after taking their dose, and then again between 3.5 to 4 hours later.

And, according to findings published last month in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, even a massive, prescription-only dose of CBD “has no impact on people’s driving or cognitive abilities,” as the University of Sydney, where the lead researchers are employed, reported in a news release.

The question of can CBD get you high? has been answered: Not only did the study participants report no feeling of intoxication, but they also exhibited no signs of intoxication whatsoever.

These findings are consistent with past research, and they “suggest that unlike some other drugs, CBD can be used without the risk of being unable to operate a motor vehicle,” said Danielle McCartney, the lead researcher and a professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Psychology. “This could certainly make CBD more appealing than other therapies to some patients (e.g., those with jobs requiring them to operate heavy machinery).

Previous research found that low doses of vaporized CBD also had no impact on driving ability. But the CBD used in the study isn’t the CBD most people are using.

What’s in Your CBD?

In Australia, it’s already legal for consumers to drive a car while using CBD. The same is true in the US, where neither state nor the federal government imposes any limits on how much CBD can be in the human body while operating a vehicle.

But the same isn’t true for THC. In theory, it’s possible to consume enough CBD oil to trigger a positive result for THC in a drug test, as well as exceed the “per se” limit for cannabis intoxication in states that still have a per se limit.

That’s because in the US, “hemp” is classified as cannabis with 0.3 percent or less THC. While formulations and ratios will vary—and while product quality and consistency are issues that continue to bedevil the CBD industry—what this means is that a CBD product will likely have some THC, and the larger a dose of CBD, the larger the potential dose of THC.

While that still probably won’t be enough THC to create any kind of intoxicating effect, or at least an effect that the user would recognize as THC-driven intoxication—in part because CBD is a THC agonist, and tends to ameliorate or even eliminate THC’s psychoactive properties—patients in a situation where a drug test could trigger loss of employment or housing should be aware of the risk of a positive drug test, said Dr. Sherry Yafai, a Santa-Monica, CA-based physician and board member of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians.

“It’s really important to highlight that,” Yafai told Cannabis Now. “I bring this up because I do have patients who test positive for THC after using a CBD product, and then get booted out of their pain-management doctor’s office.”

Yafai, who wasn’t involved with the Australian study, was also surprised that study participants reported “no lethargy or sleepiness” even at high doses. “That’s a little bit strange,” she said. “Practically speaking, a 1500 milligram dose will make most people tired for a couple of days.”

That said, this latest study is the latest demonstration of what should now be accepted as gospel: CBD is non-intoxicating.

“That’s been shown over and over again,” she said. “CBD shouldn’t be considered a drug of intoxication.”

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Driving High is Illegal: But What is Driving High?

In April 2022, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and a coterie of other state lawmakers and public-safety officials launched a firm yet nebulous public-safety campaign warning people that they shouldn’t be driving high. The initiative pulled off the neat trick of informing citizens that certain behavior is prohibited, without telling citizens exactly what that behavior is.

Called “Cannabis Conversations,” the campaign will be emphasized in an upcoming series of billboards, commercial sports and other public service announcements (PSAs) to complement similar warnings against drunk driving. But what, exactly, is “driving high?” Unlike drunk driving, that’s not something Hochul—nor anyone else in states where cannabis is legal—has been able to satisfactorily define.

Nevertheless, Hochul is the latest public official to highlight a curious situation that’s proven one of the more complex and nagging problems to arise during the marijuana legalization era.

Burden of Proof, Body of Doubt

In one sense, driving while high is not unlike pornography: You know it when you see it—if “you” are a law-enforcement official who’s a drug-recognition expert, determining whether to write a ticket or make an arrest for a misdemeanor offense.

Under New York state law, drunk driving and driving high are outlawed under the same criminal statute. But unlike the first wave of states to legalize cannabis, there’s no strict “legal limit” for cannabis impairment in New York. This is because other states such as Colorado have ditched limits like the initial standard of five nanograms of cannabis metabolite per milliliter of blood—because, unlike alcohol, cannabis metabolites are detectable in the human body long after the effects have worn off. For that reason, New York state law has no “per se” standard for impairment.

So, while this standard may be workable while out on the road, where a law enforcement officer can use various metrics, i.e., erratic driving, to make a stop and other metrics to determine impairment—slurred speech, red eyes, the scent of cannabis—it’s unclear what will happen in court, where defense attorneys were winning too many “stoned driving” cases.

In an e-mail, Jason Gough, a spokesman for New York’s governor, reiterated what Hochul and other officials have said: It’s illegal to drive under the influence of cannabis, to consume cannabis while driving or to have your friends burn a blunt in the back when you’re driving them around.

“We’re undertaking a public education campaign to help make sure New Yorkers know that if they drive high or impaired, they could be charged or hurt others,” said Gough, who added that the state would devote “cannabis revenue funds” towards the police: to train more drug-recognition experts to suss out the above, and to develop “emerging tools” such as cannabis breathalyzers “that could be used to accurately detect whether a driver is impaired by cannabis.”

OK, but what’s impairment? Gough referred Cannabis Now back to his original statement—which acknowledged, indirectly at least, that there’s no cut-and-dry standard, and it will be up to individual law-enforcement officers to decide. But will their word be enough to stand up in court? And what can a responsible, safety-minded citizen do?

What is Driving While High?

For one, people should be honest with themselves. If you feel too stoned to drive—if you feel impaired—you probably are. But what if you’ve had your wake-and-bake, and followed that up with coffee and a relaxing morning—and you feel fine?

According to recent research, cannabis users can expect their driving abilities to return to normal about three-and-a-half hours after getting stoned—or, in a laboratory setting, using cannabis to achieve the satisfactory effect. There’s a brief period where users feel a false sense of security, at about the ninety-minute mark, and then abilities return at around the three-hour mark before baseline returns at hour four.

That doesn’t do much good for someone who microdoses—that is, never used cannabis “to satisfaction” like the lab-test subjects. Nor does it give you a clear and satisfactory answer to the initial problem.

Legal experts say that the determining factor may be a driver’s ability prior to the stop. That is, if they were driving like a high person, and then the drug-recognition expert determines they looked like a high person, then a judge and/or a jury may be more likely to decide that yes, they were, in fact, driving high.

“I think drug-recognition experts, in addition to other things, such as glassy or red eyes and slurred speech, are going to have to say, ‘We saw them swerving, or making illegal lane changes,’” said David C. Holland, a New York City-based criminal defense attorney and executive director of Empire State NORML.

That may change, of course, if the driver was involved in an accident. In that case, tacking on an impaired driving charge may become axiomatic—or at least an easier sell in court. Which highlights a convenient truth: If you don’t want to get busted for driving high, don’t do it. In the meantime, getting busted for driving high while you’re not, will remain a very unsatisfying and quite real possibility.

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Weed Sprouts Across New Zealand Parliament Grounds Weeks After Occupation

An unknown protester sowed cannabis seeds throughout the rose gardens of New Zealand’s Parliament in Wellington, most likely as an act of defiance. The guerilla grower may have splintered off a violent anti-vaxxer occupation that took place weeks earlier.

New Zealand Herald reports that half a dozen of the weed plants were promptly destroyed by Parliament grounds staff as they continue to sift through the rubble of the occupation.

According to New Zealand’s 1 News, an unnamed protester returned to Parliament grounds on Thursday claiming the seeds had been sown during the chaos, alongside a range of other plants that are always there, such as coriander, brassica and marigolds.

Many of the cannabis seeds had been scattered throughout Parliament rose gardens, the protester told 1 News in anonymity, and “many more will likely germinate for years to come.” It is not immediately clear if the protester was involved in or liable for any of the violence that took place weeks prior. 

With a few weeks’ head start, nature takes over and it can spread like a weed. A Parliament groundskeeper agreed that more seeds will inevitably sprout. “There were a few cannabis seedlings,” the groundskeeper said. “A lot of seeds had been scattered around, amongst other things left from the protesters.”

Parliament grounds Speaker Trevor Mallard told 1 News, “I’ve asked for the weed to be weeded.”

This comes after a 23-day occupation of New Zealand’s Parliament grounds and surrounding streets by protesters against the country’s vaccine mandate—eerily similar to the insurrection at the United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. The copycat insurrectionists torched areas, threw flammable objects, and in some cases, tried to ram into law enforcement with cars.

The occupation began as a “convoy” that kicked off in Wellington on February 8, and was very similar to the Canadian convoy that took place in Ottawa in Canada. The convoy first camped in front of the Parliament building before things went South and they began to blockade most streets.

According to John Pratt from Victoria University of Wellington, the police did nothing to prevent the occupation from taking place, nor did they enforce a complaint from nearby Victoria University against the protestors. So by the stretches of imagination, the weed scattered throughout Parliament grounds could have been prevented as well if they had chosen to do so. Protesters attempted to burn the Law School building at the university.

Opposition National Party leader Christopher Luxon repeatedly extends sympathy for the protesters. Amid the vaccine mandate protesters, other issues are also at play.

Is it Connected to Random Roadside Drug Testing?

Random roadside drug testing will kick off in New Zealand in 2023 as part of an effort to deter drug-impaired driving, after the Land Transport (Drug Driving) Amendment legislation on March 29. The Māori Party is the only party to have voted against the bill.

“In July 2020 the Government introduced legislation that would introduce a compulsory random roadside drug testing scheme in New Zealand,” the Ministry of Transport wrote in an announcement. “Under the proposed drug driving regime, oral fluid tests will detect the most prevalent impairing illicit and prescription drugs at the roadside. The proposed change allows police to test drivers for the presence of drugs anywhere, any time, just as they can for alcohol.”

There are blood limits for 25 different street drugs, including THC. The problem with that is the fact that THC lingers in the bloodstream for much longer than most street drugs.

Drivers who test positive for drugs will be fined and stopped from driving for a minimum of 12 hours. On a positive note, drivers will not be criminally charged if they are simply high and not in possession of controlled substances.

A flurry of medical organizations in New Zealand slammed the roadside drug testing plan. The framework for oral fluid and blood tests is “not supported by reliable scientific evidence”, the Royal NZ College of General Practitioners said. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists said “the presence of drugs … does not directly relate to impairment.” The NZ Medical Association also said that the science is “not quite sufficiently adequate.”

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NCAA Revises Cannabis Rules for College Athletes

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) recently announced a change in its cannabis rules for college athletes that includes increasing the THC threshold for drug screening tests. At the meeting of the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS) held on February 22 and 23, the NCAA’s standards for student athlete cannabinoid testing were aligned with those of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Under the new policy, the THC threshold has been increased from 35 to 150 nanograms per milliliter. The new level to trigger a failed drug test is effective immediately and is applicable to drug tests administered in fall 2021 or later. The governing body for all collegiate sports in the US noted that future changes to the THC threshold for student-athletes could be made in response to future changes initiated by WADA, which would be subject to the review and approval of the CSMAS.

“Reconsidering the NCAA approach to cannabis testing and management is consistent with feedback from membership on how to better support and educate student-athletes in a society with rapidly evolving public health and cultural views regarding cannabis use,” Dr. Brian Hainline, the NCAA’s chief medical officer, said in a February 25 statement. “Marijuana is not considered a performance-enhancing substance, but it remains important for member schools to engage student-athletes regarding substance use prevention and provide management and support when appropriate.”

The CSMAS also recommended that each division make changes to the penalty structure for student-athletes who test positive for THC in NCAA drug tests. Because drug testing penalties are legislated under NCAA bylaws, each division will be required to separately adopt the new rules before changes are made.

Under the proposed new penalty structure, a first positive test for THC will not result in a loss of eligibility if the school provides education and a management plan for the student-athlete. A second positive marijuana test will also not trigger a loss of eligibility if the school confirms that the student-athlete was compliant with the original education and management plan and provides additional training and management as needed. However, the student-athlete must be withheld from 25% of regular season contests if they weren’t compliant with the plan. Similarly, a third positive cannabis test would result in a loss of eligibility from 50% of regular season contests, only if the student-athlete failed to comply with the education and management plan.

The change in penalty structure is significant. Under current bylaws for NCAA Division I, II and III, a first positive test for THC results in a loss of eligibility for 50% of regular season contests. A second positive test can trigger a suspension that lasts an entire season.

“These adjustments to the NCAA drug testing program were approved after careful consideration and extensive discussion of the recommendations made by the Drug Testing Subcommittee, which has been meeting since last fall,” said Dr. Stephanie Chu, Colorado team physician and CSMAS chair. “The updated cannabis testing policies create a clear pathway for student-athletes to participate in education and management programs specific to their needs at the campus level.”

THC Bans for Athletes Under Fire

The change in NCAA cannabis rules arrives as sanctions for athletes who use marijuana come under increasing scrutiny. Last year, controversary erupted over the issue when US track and field star Sha’Carri Richardson was denied an appearance at the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo after testing positive for THC at a preliminary meet. Other sports organizations have also had their cannabis testing policies come under review. Last year, the NBA extended a temporary policy of not randomly testing players for THC through the 2021-22 season, although drug screenings for cause will continue. In 2020, the NFL ended suspensions for positive tests for any drug under a new collective bargaining agreement with the football players’ union. And in 2019, MLB removed cannabis from baseball’s list of banned substances.

Following the NCAA’s announcement, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said the amendments to the marijuana testing policy for student-athletes “reflect the changing cultural and legal status of cannabis. Studies have shown that cannabis is not a performance enhancing agent, so it is inappropriate for athletic bodies to impose punishments for those competitors who consume it while off the field.”

“This is a timely and welcome change for the NCAA, and it coincides with similar policy shifts in a number of professional sports organizations and global athletic institutions,” said NORML political director Morgan Fox. “It makes no sense to punish athletes above and beyond the penalties they may already face under the applicable laws of their states for consuming a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol. More states are decreasing or eliminating criminal penalties for cannabis for people under the legal age limit, and an increasing number of colleges and universities—in legal and prohibition states alike—are taking steps to make their cannabis policies more in line with those for alcohol. The NCAA is absolutely correct to evolve their own policies in a similar manner.”

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St. Louis County to End Pot Screenings for Most Employees

The St. Louis County Council voted last week to end cannabis drug screenings for most county employees, a move that comes as Missouri lawmakers consider legislation to legalize recreational pot statewide.

Under the bill approved by the St. Louis council last week, the county would be banned from requiring drug screenings for cannabis as a condition of employment, except for workers in safety-sensitive positions. The legislation includes pre-employment drug tests as well as random screenings for current public employees.

“No person currently employed by St. Louis County or applying for employment by St. Louis County shall be required to undergo pre-employment or random drug testing for the presence of marijuana metabolites (THC) as a condition or part of employment,” the text of the bill states. The measure includes exceptions for employees who operate heavy machinery or vehicles, law enforcement officers, and those in positions with federal drug testing requirements. 

The measure sponsored by 5th District Councilwoman Lisa Clancy was passed by the county council along party lines on March 8. Council members Kelli Dunaway, Shalonda Webb, and Rita Days joined fellow Democrat Clancy with votes in favor of the bill, while Republicans Ernie Trakas, Tim Fitch, and Mark Harder voted against the measure. A spokesman for County Executive Sam Page told reporters that he intends to sign the measure into law.

“People who legally use marijuana for medical purposes shouldn’t be discriminated against AND this policy will remove a barrier to recruitment and hiring,” Clancy wrote on Twitter after the council passed the measure. “That’s why I sponsored and passed this bill.”

St. Louis Cannabis Industry and Activists Support Bill

The cannabis industry group MoCannTrade praised the measure passed by the St. Louis County Council to restrict cannabis screenings of public employees.

“We applaud the STL County Council on the passage of a bill that would end marijuana testing for prospective county employees accepting law enforcement, federal contractors, or other ‘safety-sensitive’ positions,” MoCannTrade said in a statement on social media.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) noted in a statement that the action from the St. Louis County Council to restrict cannabis screenings for public employees followed the passage of a similar measure by the city council in Kansas City last year. City lawmakers in Atlanta, Baltimore, and Philadelphia have also enacted ordinances to restrict drug testing of public employees, and last week the New Orleans City Council advanced a similar proposal.

Efforts to limit cannabis screenings by private employers are being made at the state level, with Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Montana enacting legislation to limit companies’ use of pre-employment drug tests for cannabis.

“These decisions by state and municipal officials reflect today’s changing cultural landscape, particularly as it pertains to marijuana,” NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said. “These suspicionless drug testing policies were never evidence-based and have always been discriminatory. They are relics of the failed ‘war on drugs’ policies of the 1980s and it is time that we move beyond them.”

Pending Bill Would Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis

Missouri voters legalized the medical use of cannabis statewide with a ballot measure passed by voters in 2018. And last month, Republican state Representative Ron Hicks introduced the Cannabis Freedom Act, a bill that would legalize recreational weed. If passed, the bill would legalize cannabis for use by adults, regulate recreational cannabis commerce, and expunge convictions for past cannabis-related offenses. In a statement, Hicks acknowledged the assistance from stakeholders and an Oklahoma state lawmaker in drafting the legislation.

“The Cannabis Freedom Act is the product of input from many different stakeholders including members of law enforcement and those who have endured incarceration for conduct that society now deems acceptable,” Hicks said. “I am particularly grateful for input from Oklahoma State Representative Scott Fetgatter for his assistance in creating a free market program that is also strictly regulated.”

The Cannabis Freedom Act is supported by cannabis activists including Christina Thompson of ShowMe Canna-Freedom. She told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the legislation is preferable to a proposed voter initiative that would “give current medical marijuana businesses the first shot at full recreational sales and keep in place the state’s ability to limit licenses.”

“This initiative (Legal Missouri 2022) eliminates nearly all competition through constitutionally protected license caps,” Thompson said. “Recreational licenses created under the initiative will go straight to established businesses as well, meaning instead of opening up more business opportunities for others; money only goes to those who are already profiting.”

“The lack of competition and artificially inflated prices fuel the black market,” Thompson added. “Millions in lost revenue for our state is instead funding drug cartels, human trafficking and more while desperate patients are victimized.”

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Wells Fargo Analyst Blames Pot Prohibition for Lack of Truckers

A Wells Fargo financial analyst has blamed the federal prohibition of cannabis for the nation’s shortage of truckers that has led to supply chain problems across the country.

Chris Harvey, Wells Fargo’s head of equity strategy, said that the demands of the job, which often require truckers to be away from home for days if not weeks at a time, have always posed a recruiting challenge for trucking companies. But he also blamed drug screenings for cannabis for exacerbating the current driver shortage that is plaguing trucking companies from coast to coast.

“It’s really about drug testing,” Harvey said while speaking on an industry conference call last week. “We’ve legalized marijuana in some states but, obviously, not all … What we’ve done is we’re excluding a significant portion of that trucker industry.”

Harvey said that many drivers have had to leave the industry because of drug testing, adding that requirements that went into effect as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold will “continue to push that price even higher” in the form of increased transportation costs and empty store shelves.

Strict Drug Testing Requirements for Truck Drivers

Truckers are subject to strict regulations that require them to undergo random drug and alcohol screenings on a quarterly basis. Truck drivers are also subject to additional drug testing after a collision or if they receive a traffic citation.

In January 2020, new legislation went into effect requiring the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to create and maintain a database of all truck drivers who had failed a screening for alcohol or drugs. With the information, trucking companies can avoid hiring drivers who failed a drug screening at one company but then applied for employment at another.

The new drug screening reporting requirements went into effect as cannabis continues to be legalized across the country, with 38 states now permitting cannabis in some form. So far, the new law has impacted about 110,000 drivers, including more than half that tested positive for cannabis. But Lamont Byrd, director of the Teamsters’ safety and health department, noted that unlike alcohol, testing positive for cannabis does not equate to driver impairment.

“The use of marijuana among drivers presents a real dilemma because we don’t have a test that can measure impairment like we do for alcohol,” Byrd told Minnesota Public Radio. “So the drug or its metabolites … hang around for days, weeks and sometimes longer periods of time, so you don’t know from a test perspective if a person is actually impaired. So to err on the side of caution, its use is prohibited.”

Thousands of Truckers Lost Due to New Rules

Sean Garney, vice president of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, noted that tens of thousands of truckers have been disqualified from driving since the new rules went into effect. He believes that the new database has led to a reduction in the trucker work force by about 2.5 percent.

“It’s hard to deny the fact that 47,000 drivers are ineligible to operate a commercial vehicle since the beginning of the clearinghouse,” he said. “But making sure drivers who should be ineligible aren’t driving is a good thing.”

Mary Bohl, electronic logging device coordinator of Hettinger Trucking in Missouri, said the new rules have led many applicants for truck driver positions to change their minds before completing the hiring process.

“We’ve had some who’ve said yes until they found out about having to register with the drug and alcohol clearinghouse, and they didn’t want to do that,” she said.

“At one point we had 17 truckers. Now we’re down to nine,” Bohl added. “It’s not fun at all. We are really struggling to get people in here.”

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Proposed Bill Could Protect Employees in Colorado who Use Cannabis

It has been nearly 10 years since voters in Colorado legalized recreational cannabis, but for some employers in the state, prohibition remains the law of the land.

A proposed bill would change that, with lawmakers there reviving an effort to prohibit employers from firing employers solely for using pot. 

Called the “Prohibit Employer Adverse Action Marijuana Use,” (or HB1152) the new legislation would seek to bar employers from “taking adverse action against an employee, including an applicant for employment, who engages in the use of… medical marijuana on the premises of the employer during working hours; or retail or medical marijuana off the premises of the employer during non-working hours.” 

The bill does allow for exceptions to the rule, saying that an employer “is permitted to impose restrictions on employee use of medical or retail marijuana under specified circumstances.”

According to the Colorado Sun, those exceptions include “workers whose jobs are in dangerous fields or require fine motor skills, such as positions involving the use of heavy machinery.”

HB1152 would resolve a peculiar dilemma in Colorado, where cannabis has become inextricably linked with the state’s culture and economy since voters approved a legalization proposal at the ballot in 2012. Medicinal cannabis has been legal in the state since 2000.

It follows a previous legislative effort, proposed in 2020, that also would have prohibited companies from firing workers for using cannabis outside of work.

Democratic state Representative. Brianna Titone, the chief sponsor of HB 1152, said it doesn’t make sense for a worker to be sacked over a legal activity.

“Marijuana is legal in Colorado,” Titone told the Colorado Sun. “And what people do in their spare time that doesn’t impact their work shouldn’t really be a problem for them. They should be able to enjoy the legal things that we have here in Colorado and not be penalized for it.”

Democratic state Representative Edie Hooton, a co-sponsor of the bill, echoed those sentiments.

“The whole idea is to signal to the business community and to employers that because we have legalized cannabis, we should be following the same laws and rules that apply to alcohol and prescription drugs,” Hooton said, as quoted by the Colorado Sun.

The discrepancy between law and company policy highlights what has been a defining tension of the past decade of legalization in the U.S., even as state after state has followed Colorado’s lead and ended prohibition within its own borders, weed remains illegal on the federal level, and still verboten in other parts of society.

In Colorado, the contradiction bubbled to the surface in 2015, when the state’s Supreme Court “ruled that DISH Network acted legally when it fired a quadriplegic employee, Brandon Coats, who used medical marijuana to treat seizures while he was not at work, after a random drug test turned up positive for marijuana,” according to local television station Denver7.

“It’s frustrating. I can’t get a job, especially with my case out there like that,” Coats said, as quoted by the station. “You can’t get a job for doing something that’s lawful, and it doesn’t make any sense to me.”

The bill has drawn objections, including from the Colorado Chamber of Commerce and Colorado Mining Association.

“Mining and marijuana don’t mix. Mining, like many other professions out there, is an inherently dangerous job no matter what jobs you have in mind. But you can reduce the risk of injury and death. The most important way to do that is to have a zero-tolerance drug policy,” said Stan Dempsey, the president of the Colorado Mining Association, as quoted by Denver7.

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