The rights of the disabled require constant vigilance. The advancements of the disability rights movement such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, Medicaid, and social inclusion were hard won and enforcement of these gains remains a struggle. Beside implicit biases against their abilities, the disabled must also confront the fact that the people they engage with are often ignorant of the challenges they face, and what is necessary to address them. This makes it difficult to relay the urgency of the policy objectives promoted by disability rights activists. One of the many areas where disability activists have difficulty expressing the seriousness and urgency of their proposals is cannabis medicine.
The United States provides legal and social protections for the disabled and subsidizes ways to enable disabled people to have broader and deeper engagement with their community. These laws and norms are a recognition of two facts about the nature of the relationship between the disabled and wider community. The first is that people with disabilities deserve compassion and that any reasonable accommodation that reduces the burden of disability is widely accepted as a moral effort. The second recognition is that, if offered reasonable accommodation, many people with disabilities can contribute and compete effectively in their communities and industries. Therefore support for the disabled is also a sound investment. Cannabis medicine implicates both of these truths even as policy makers fail to recognize.
Cannabis is a remarkable palliative drug. It reduces pain, spasm, nausea, and anxiety while promoting restful sleep. All of these are symptoms of of different disabilities. They may seem banal but they can be be debilitating. While other drugs exist to treat each of these symptoms they have crucial limitations. Certain combinations of these drugs can be fatal (a common example being pain and anxiety medications). Many create physical dependencies and all carry a risk of fatal overdose. Cannabis on the other hand is incredibly safe with zero recorded overdoses. It also has the benefit of being far less intoxicating than many pain, spasm and anxiety medications allowing for a better quality of life while medicated.
Many people struggling with disability also could not be productive without cannabis medicines. For certain forms of epilepsy, neuropathy, depression, inflammatory conditions, and anxiety there simply are not effective alternatives. By restricting access to cannabis we are restricting the ability of millions to work.
States continuing to ban cannabis medicines are causing needless hardship to the disabled community. Cannabis medicines can ease some of the painful symptoms of certain disabilities while allowing the person to remain active and engaged. Even as states open and expand their medical cannabis programs, they must keep in mind the people who need them the most. Efforts must be made to keep cannabis medicine affordable, available, and accessible.
Cannabis and cannabis based medicinal products are legally available, in some form or another, for residents of 29 states and three US territories. While access varies wildly from state to state, in each jurisdiction residents with certain medical conditions are permitted to purchase, possess and, use a certain quantities of cannabis. Despite these important successes, few states have taken the next crucial step of protecting the economic and civil rights of individuals benefitting from these advances. Specifically, employers can still fire employees that test positive for cannabis, even if it is recommended by doctor for a medical condition. This is not only cruel to the law abiding people who have found relief only to see their job threatened, the legal and economic justifications are beginning to expose their flaws.
The legal justificationemployers offer for firing people using cannabis is that possession remains illegal under federal law and that employers should not accommodate violations of federal law. This reasoning has been widely accepted among medical cannabis states. In most states an employer’s right to be intolerant of cannabis is explicitly written into the state’s medical cannabis law. Workers fired for legal medicinal cannabis use have been consistently denied recourse on these grounds.
The Massachusetts Supreme Court’s recent ruling has called this reasoning into question. The court held that state law requires that medical cannabis be treated like any other prescribed drug, and that allowing a disabled employee to consume medical cannabis that has effectively treated her symptoms did not constitute an unreasonable accommodation by her employer. This is an example of the law recognizing the legitimacy of cannabis medicine and therefore the patent injustice of punishing people who receiving treatment for a medical condition.
Further, employers argue that medical cannabis costs their businesses in accidents and worker absenteeism. The data shows that these assumptions simply do not hold up to the evidence. Worker absenteeism is down in states with medical cannabis laws. There has similarly been no uptick in workplace accidents in legalcannabis states.
It makes logical sense as well. If workers have access to an effective non-narcotic, non-toxic, anti-inflammatory medicine that also improves sleep and appetite, they’re less likely to call out because they’re in pain, exhausted, or sick. Though one might assume that legal access to cannabis would cause more accidents the most intoxicating drugs (alcohol, benzodiazepines, opioids) are already legally available and easier to disguise in drug tests.
Although law and industry are slow to accept the legitimacy cannabis medicine, the millions that rely on the relief it brings cannot continue to wait for them to be educated. We must demand that our elected officials to protect the rights of medical cannabis users.
Seniors are, by far, the most medicated demographic. As people get older they generally endure more illness and health related concerns. To ease symptoms older people tend to take more opioids, sleep and anxiety medication, muscle relaxers and antidepressants than the general public. These kinds of drugs carry acute risks and many have debilitating side effects. They also tend to create dependence which in itself carries dangers and challenges. Cannabis is an effective alternate treatment for many of the symptoms for which more dangerous drugs are prescribed. Replacing more dangerous drugs with cannabis would save thousands of lives and offer patients a better quality of life. Since older people stand to benefit the most from medical cannabis more should be done to make sure they have access.
While trends suggest more and more seniors are forgoing their prescription drugs in favor of cannabis, obstacles remain in place that severely limit many people’s ability to obtain the medicine they need. Even in states where medical cannabis is legal the elderly face hurdles. Three major impediments that should be addressed are lack of insurance coverage, prohibitions in residential treatment facilities, and lack of understanding.
A government program called Medicare subsidized the healthcare of nearly all US seniors. Some also have supplementary insurance. Medicare and other insurers will cover a variety of narcotics, tranquilizers, and psychotropics. No providers cover the cost of medical cannabis. Even though medical cannabis is cheaper, safer, and often as effective as analogous prescription drugs the federal government still claims cannabis has “no accepted medical value”. This classification has a host of legal implications one of them is that cannabis cannot be covered by health insurance. This lack of coverage means that powerful and dangerous drugs are far less expensive than the herbal (at times, more effective) alternative. For a group that disproportionately relies on a small fixed income the cost is prohibitive.
Nursing homes are home to a large swath of elderly Americans who can no longer care for themselves. They are also, in large part, for profit businesses. Due to the nature of what they do, they face large legal liabilities and are sensitive about things that lead to a legal issues. While some brave operators have incorporated cannabis, many have instituted bans. The reason for this is fear of lawsuits and regulators. Many are uneducated about cannabis and fear their patients might have a bad reaction. Others worry the federal government will knock on their door. Directors of these facilities should educate themselves so they can accommodate their clients’ medical needs and remain within the parameters of the the law. It could drastically improve the lives of their residents.
Like any treatment, either the patient or the doctor must be aware of it before it can be pursued. Further, it helps if both have good information about the treatment. Seniors have a particular problem when it comes to this as it relates to cannabis. Many are unaware of its medical properties and the information they do have is often based on old propaganda. Little is being done to improve their understanding. Doctors and healthcare professionals are also often unfamiliar with how cannabis can be used medicinally. This is beginning to change but lot of work remains to ensure that both groups have this crucial information. CITIVA is taking a leading role in educating doctors and seniors about medical cannabis.