The Cannabis Closet: Pain Or Unemployment?

A reader writes:

I live in Northern California, and I voted Yes on Proposition 19. I smoked a little cannabis when I was in my late teens and early 20s, back in the late '70s. It didn’t make me want to try other, more potentially dangerous illegal drugs. In fact, because I was a student and broke most of the time, I rarely could afford to buy it (and frankly, I was too naive to know easily how to get it). For me, it was like having an occasional glass of very nice wine, usually during a party when a joint was being passed around. I enjoyed the experience and left it at that.

I’m in my early 50s now. I’ve had rheumatoid arthritis for more than 20 years, and while some treatments for the disease are effective, their efficacy varies from person to person, and they often only work for a while.

It’s a very painful and often disabling and even disfiguring disease; I've taken many, many different medications in an attempt to control it and relieve the pain. The latest "cocktail" of drugs I take for RA is, my doctor tells me, controlling the disease. Unfortunately, the joint pain remains.

About six months ago I finally got brave enough to take my medical records to a “pot doctor,” and got the “card” (it’s actually a letter) that makes it legal for me to use cannabis to treat my pain. I went to a dispensary and bought some.

It helps with the pain, but I discovered (this wasn’t a big surprise) that while I was under the influence, I shouldn’t try to do anything very productive, and certainly shouldn’t attempt to drive. Of course, it's the same with alcohol, and it's the same with opiate-based prescription analgesics as well. I drink very little, and I hate taking opiate painkillers for fear of becoming tolerant, dependent and addicted. Cannabis is a wonderful alternative, used responsibly and with care.

So while being able to use pot for pain has been nice, I've only used it in the evenings or on weekends when I know I’m going to be home and prepared to be unproductive while I'm in less pain.

But now I find myself in a conundrum. I’ve been unemployed for a couple of years. I continue to search for work, but so far have been unable to find a job. Here's the thing: If I do find a decent job and get an interview, what happens if they require a drug test? If I’m using cannabis, I’ll fail it. Goodbye, job.

So even though I have my weed tucked away in my cupboard, ready to use when I hurt badly, I haven’t used it for quite some time, just in case. When it comes to pain relief versus full-time employment, I have to be realistic and pragmatic and go for the latter. Prop 19 might not have changed this situation much (certainly it would have taken some time for the overall social culture to change), but it was something to look forward to. Now I guess that change will just have to wait. And as long as I'm unemployed, so will I.