The Sword of Damocles

by Fred Gardner, November 30, 2016

The term "sword of Damocles hanging over..." evokes a threat to whoever is underneath. In the original myth, Damocles was a nobleman in the court of Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse. When Damocles expressed interest in being king, Dionysius yielded the throne to him. Damocles, delighted, ordered up delicacies and dames until he noticed the sharp, heavy blade that hung above his head on a slender thread. Then he begged to have his day job back.

The election of Donald Trump means that the sword of Damocles will continue to hang over cannabis producers and distributors, just when they thought they'd be coming out from under it as legitimate, profit-seeking business persons. Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions will undoubtedly appoint rightwing federal prosecutors. Maybe we'll get Joe Russoniello, currently doing radio ads for Armstrong Roofing, back at his old post as US Attorney for the Northern District of California.

We can expect ample funding for High-Intensity Inter-Agency Drug-Fighting Camo Buddies. The power of state, county and local law enforcement agents over cannabis growers and distributors will be greatly enhanced, because all it takes is a call to sic the feds on anyone who displeases the sheriff.

For some ganjapreneurs, the federal sword of Damocles could prove to be double-edged, enabling them to maintain their image as risk-taking freedom fighters, while justifying high prices. The big reform groups are are already using the spectre of Attorney General Sessions to raise money from well-meaning suckers like you.

Under Obama, a memo from Assistant Attorney General James Cole advised federal prosecutors not to pursue cannabis producers and distributors who abided by state laws and regulations. If Trump's AG rescinds the Cole memo, it will be a way of declaring "open season" on everyone in the industry. Some may see it as a disincentive to follow state law. If obedience doesn't guarantee safety, what's the point?

Fire Power

A sword of Damocles hangs over anyone who has to work for a living. The ultimate power of the employer over the employee is the power to fire him or her. The legalization initiative recently enacted in California does not protect cannabis-using jobholders—even those  whose jobs are not "safety sensitive," who never brought cannabis to the workplace, who never showed signs of impairment— they can still be fired if their urine is found to contain metabolites of THC. A physician's approval will avail them nothing.

The "ReformCA"  legalization initiative drafted by Dale Gieringer of California NORML and Dale Sky Jones of Oaksterdam University would have protected the jobs of unimpaired medical cannabis users. ReformCA's  polling showed that voters approved of such protection.  The question was posed thus:]

"Here’s another statement that may be part of ballot measure: patients who use cannabis for medicine will have the same rights as patients who use other legal medications. Would adding this statement to the ballot initiative make you more likely or less likely to support the initiative, or would it not make any difference?"

The responses: Much more likely 30; Somewhat more likely 13; Somewhat less likely 4; Much less likely 7 No difference  43; Don’t know 3

Unfortunately, input from ReformCA was largely ignored by the crew funded by billionaire Sean Parker to draft the "Adult Use of Marijuana Act."  It affords no protection to the unimpaired worker who tests "dirty."

A story on page 1 of the New York Times business section November 23 touched on the subject cannabis users' rights in the workplace. Reporter Barry Meier quoted an exec from a drug testing company (Barry Sample of Quest Diagnostics) and an exec from a reform enterprise (Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance):

Despite the push toward legalization, few employers have dropped marijuana from the list of drugs for which employees are tested, compounds that typically include opioids, amphetamines and cocaine, Mr. Sample said. One exception is a hotel operator in Colorado, a state where recreational use of marijuana has been legal for several years, he added.

"They were having problems finding people," Mr. Sample said.

As marijuana legalization expands, there are also concerns about its effect on workplace safety. Some studies suggest that marijuana use can impair a person's judgment, though little data exists to compare the effect with that of other drugs like opioids.

In states where recreational use is allowed, the problem for employers becomes one of determining when an employee used marijuana, because detectable levels of it remain in the body for days afterward.

As a result, employers must use more subjective observations to judge whether an employee has become impaired from using marijuana while at work, said Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that supports legalization.

Ethan Nadelmann has pushed hard over the years to protect the bosses' "right" to fire unimpaired workers —even medical users— on the basis of a urine test. In 2010 he rigged a poll to show that California’s legalization initiative failed, supposedly, because it didn’t uphold the bosses’ power over marijuana users! His sleight of hand was exposed in these pages:  See theava.com/archives/9237.

And then the liblabs wonder why the white working class voted 4-to-1 for Donald Trump! (Nadelmann says that "social justice" is his motivation —as opposed to certain newcomers to the cannabis scene whose motivation is money.)

PS  11/28 from the NYTimes page one story on Fidel: "He told the biographer Tad Szulc that the anticipation, speed and dexterity required for basketball most approximated the skills needed for revolution."

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