248-409-1900 dburke@mi-worklaw.com


By:  Bill Pilchak 7/15/14

Don’t Be Telling Me About No “Gateway Drug”

Not After What Our Family Has Gone Through!

          As most know, Colorado and Washington have legalized pot and the feds have strangely backed off enforcement of federal laws as their experiment goes forth. There is outcry that legalization will increase the usage of hard drugs, because marijuana is a gateway drug. Because I have personally witnessed such a dramatic escalation in cravings for one substance after another in my own household, I had to step forward and offer my two cents.

          Despite my cheerful demeanor to colleagues and clients, in truth, I face the same personal problem at home almost every night. The addict living with us is a total drain on our resources. She has never held a job although she’s more than twenty years old. She remains in bed until whenever she wants, and more often than not, she goes right back to bed after breakfast. Or she will flop into my favorite chair and defy to be moved.   She doesn’t leave the house for weeks at a time. At any given time, I might return home and find her collapsed on the floor. She’s now just skin and bones, her coloration is splotchy and she throws up a lot. I mean A LOT! Although I try not to use the word in her presence, I often slip up and describe her as “useless.”

          Her personality has changed. She has become loud and demanding. If she doesn’t get a fix, she screams. It’s a nightmare.

          Those who know me well will recognize that I am speaking of Sadie Pilchak, the last remaining in our other-wise empty nest.

          At first, we didn’t even know she was hooked. It started with tablets found in our cupboard.   From there, it was the to-be-expected green leafy substance. If we hoped it would stop at either of those gateways, we were wrong. She started getting into one snowy white substance after another, each new addiction more shocking than the last.

          Well, if I’m going to be any help, I may as well be more specific. We didn’t realize that the kitty-treat tablets were addictive. But soon, no matter how many we gave, they were never enough.   In the summer, when the catnip in the garden bloomed, we of course gave her some, not realizing that it would escalate. I don’t even know how she originally scored cream cheese but she would sit in front of the fridge and yowl long after the bagels were put away.   But it’s hard to admit publicly her current abuse: She’s mainlining cool whip. No pumpkin pie. No strawberry shortcake. Just put some into a dish, please.

          So, my personal experience colors my perspective on what’s going on in Colorado and Washington: It’s an experiment that might go all wrong. I’m happy that Colorado and Washington are taking the gamble, not Michigan, which is not likely to follow suit. Although all 83 counties voted in favor of Medical Marijuana in 2008 (62.67% to 37.33%), a May, 2014 WDIV/Detroit News poll showed 52.1 percent of Michigan voters oppose legalizing small amounts of marijuana for recreational use while 41.8 percent support it, with opinions split along party (no pun intended) lines. I hope that other states wait to see what happens before they jump on the bandwagon. Unlike most issues, I don’t believe I have all the answers on this one, so let me offer a mixed bag.

          First, I’m concerned that with legalization an increasing percentage of our population will become wasteoids and a burden on society. We already have segments of the population who simply don’t aspire to work, let alone focus on achieving something higher, such as a career. I don’t think there is any question but that smoking pot can derail one from a task at hand or his or her long-term ambitions. Statistically, drug users are more likely to miss work than non-users. The one-hit-wonder, Because I got High, appears to be the authoritative treatise on this subject. In case you haven’t heard the lyrics, the singer mentions various tasks he had planned (I was going to go to class, go to work, pay the note on my car, etc.), “but then I got high.”

          Second, I would be especially concerned if a user’s children got access to the pot in their formative years. A couple of stories about marijuana brownies being brought to elementary school have already surfaced. Those episodes have to be dealt with. One might ask: are those episodes more serious than if the kid had brought a fifth of Dewar’s to school? Probably not, but kids don’t often bring fifths of booze to school. Brownies taste better than scotch.

          One cannot discuss the issue without asking how many people (especially working adults) are already smoking pot and whether those who will now start using upon legalization will spin out of control. Personally, I have never been to Colorado. However, I have been informed by others that Colorado is where the flower children went to bloom in the 1970’s and where they are now wilting like the rest of the baby boomers. If the culture is as they say, the uptick in use upon legalization there may not be terribly great.

          The Colorado/Washington experiment forces us to be realistic about this issue. A frank discussion has been suppressed because of the stigma of drug use. But in reality, an experiment has been going on for the last 40-50 years. A July, 2013 Gallup poll finds that 38% of adults admit to smoking marijuana, with 44% of those between 50-64 years of age (those in college 1967-1981) and 49% of those 30 to 49 years of age (in college 1985-2001) admitting to use. Gallup’s own data demonstrates that these figures are understated. In both 1977 and 1985 Gallup surveys, 56% of those 18-29 years of age admitted to having tried marijuana. Unless there has been a dramatic die-off of pot users vs. the general population, 7%-12% of those age groups stopped reporting their prior marijuana usage.

          Our own experience with drug testing has suggested that a significant percentage of the blue collar workforce smokes pot. Though it was many, many years ago at another firm, when one client announced a random testing drug policy and then tested the workforce before employees could quit using, not only did the vast majority of hourly employees test positive, but many of the client’s valued supervisors. Similar results are why virtually no one in business conducts truly random testing and have retreated to “reasonable suspicion” testing: A company’s best performer could be using substances on Saturday night. Certainly that was the case during the cocaine craze of the 1980’s where Wall Street Wunderkinds and other execs were enthralled by the powder.

          Owners and managers of businesses, HR managers administering drug testing programs and governmental leaders who must maintain a public image will be the last to know the true state of affairs regarding marijuana usage. However, one barometer not only measures usage, but presents the greatest bi-partisan argument against legalization. The last three Presidents are believed to have smoked pot in college. (Clinton and Obama admit usage, and Bush refused to answer questions on the subject, reportedly because he did not want children emulating his conduct.) Can’t we all agree and say if pot smoking produces a President like ______[fill in the blank]___, then we want to avoid widespread usage of the substance at all costs?