Will a Marinol prescription allow my medical marijuana consumption to continue from a drug testers point of view?
August 22, 2007 6:02 AM   Subscribe

Would employer urine tests be able to differentiate from cannabis and Marinol (dronabinol)? Alternatively, in my state medical marijuana is approved, do testing centers accept marijuana prescriptions?

I recently landed a job at a firm that I really enjoy. Unfortunately I have a non-terminal chronic condition, and marijuana is really what has worked best. My doctor is very legitimate, as is my condition. The alternative treatment is relatively new, very expensive, and the side effects are worse than the disease itself. I have to take a random drug test twice a year. This is not a government or security related position, but is at a very white shoe, conservative firm.

My doctor recommended a prescription of Marinol, which he believes would be indistinguishable from inhaled cannabis on a standard urine test. He cautions that more sensitive screening would in theory be able to differentiate Marinol from cannabis, but doubts that testing companies could justify the cost and it is rather unlikely they would have such procedures in place. After reading some articles, I have to agree with him.

So the question is, does anyone have experience with this? Any practical advice is greatly appreciated. I've tried using Marinol but find that even at low doses, it is not as easy to regulate and actually makes me feel more "stoned" than inhaling a hit or two of cannabis.

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posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think one thing you might want to start doing is, if possible, make sure that you're consistently treating the marijuana use exclusively as a medical prescription (not sure if you're doing that already). In other words, don't mix both medical and recreational uses. Keep a log of usage, where it's clearly marked as being for medical use in accordance with the law in the state.

This way you can establish some kind of evidence of its medical, rather than recreational, use.

Since drug testing is probably arbitrary and based on the company rather than mandated by law, I imagine it's at the company's discretion to accept relevant prescriptions. However, it's going to look very wrong if you cop to it after the fact.

If it's a large enough company there may be some kind of anonymous answers resource that, using proper precautions (such as emailing from an anonymous account) could answer the question of whether such prescriptions are accepted. I just can't imagine that there is a set rule for this, so you have to ask someone within the company itself.

Also, if the drug testing is outsourced (not sure if that happens) you might be able to get clarification from the drug testing company itself.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:36 AM on August 22, 2007

Oh, and please, if you get helpful information to your address, forward it to jessamyn, who will then post it to this page. I'm sure there are others who would appreciate answers to this question.

I consider myself lucky that legal drugs exist for my condition (ADHD) and feel bad for people who have to balance between healing themselves and a way too restrictive regime against weed (Did you know doctors can even prescribe cocaine? Weird but true)
posted by Deathalicious at 6:38 AM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

...in my state medical marijuana is approved, do testing centers accept marijuana prescriptions?

The way it usually works is that the testing center will report a positive result to the company ordering the test, along with a notation that the patient has a prescription for that drug. So the question should be "does my company accept the use of medical marijuana?" It might be hard to discretely find the answer to that question, but if you can it might help you decide on the best course of action.
posted by TedW at 6:58 AM on August 22, 2007

If you are on the company medical plan and are currently filling this prescription through the plan, the company will have records etc, and may actually know about it already.

Consider going to HR to explain your fears about the random tests based on your prescription. I am not an HR professional nor an attorney, but I do not believe they can fire you for a medical condition and the treatment thereof if you are successfully doing your job. So assuming your reviews have been good, not much to be concerned about.

FWIW, I have also found that at some of the whitest shoe conservative firms out there, there are plenty of open minded former partiers who would understand and appreciate the situation. I once had a conversation about the Grateful Dead with the CEO of a publicly traded Wall Street brokerage firm, so you never know.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:11 AM on August 22, 2007

I don't know anything about the scientific side (being able to distinguish in a urine test between the two), but perhaps the best approach here is to be proactive -- get the prescription from your doctor, approach HR in advance and say that your doctor believes your prescription may show up as an illegal substance.

I think by being upfront you're more likely to head off any problems.

Disclosure -- I live in a country where drug testing employees is illegal except in very specific circumstances, so I don't know how seriously your HR people will take this.
posted by modernnomad at 7:24 AM on August 22, 2007

I can't speak to the accuracy of that test, but since your question seems to be seeking general advice as well I'd suggest a non-technical solution to the problem.

Mainly, speak to your supervisor and lay the cards on the table. How many of those cards you turn face-up (to beat this metaphor to death) is your choice. At the very least I'd personally officially schedule a meeting, close the door and make a disclosure that you have a chronic condition and that you take medication to cope with it. State that you are concerned that these random drug tests will come up with a false-positive that you are taking illegal drugs.

Optionally you can disclose what the condition is and what the nature of it is, what you're taking to treat it, up to and including every single fact.

At the least, however, I'd put some of the facts on the table for two reasons. First and foremost because you can't be sure what the test is going to turn up until it happens, so that's beyond your control. What you can control here is the surprise factor. Companies drug test for a variety of reasons randing from having swallowed the War on Some Drugs kool-aid to workman's comp requirements/discounts to contractual obligations. All of them, however, are doing it with the goal of no surprises.

By standing up and addressing the issue preemptively you remove the surprise and show that you're not trying to hide something. You can't be sure they won't have a knee-jerk reaction but at the very least you can have it happen on your timing, not unexpectedly during a drug test. At best you help them to do what they really want to do: keep an employee that they like.

Because the reality is that companies violate their own policies to make things work in their own interest pretty much incessantly. They let people take vacation they don't have, they violate their compensation guidelines, pay signing bonuses, offer perks, etc ad infinitum. When confronted with a policy they don't much care about in conflict with an employee they want to keep they will work to find a way to deal.

My secondary reason for suggesting this approach is for everyone's good - you put a face on the "opposing side" of this policy rather than just a demonized OMG DRUGGIE image in their head, and it's a reasonable, competent, honest face. I suppose an ambitious lawyer or group with an ax to grind might even be willing to take up a wrongful termination/ADA approach if this goes badly for you, but my belief is more basic and potentially naive belief that the best way to combat stupid and counter-productive policies is with reason.
posted by phearlez at 9:49 AM on August 22, 2007

As a side note— I once had a job interview where they told me I would be drug tested. I told them that I had been taking hemp supplements and that they should expect the urine to come back positive. They were totally accepting, to the point that I felt vaguely bad about lying to them. Except that drug tests are invasive, and they were retarded about the hiring process.
posted by klangklangston at 2:02 PM on August 22, 2007

Be honest: just call a little meeting with your supervisor and tell them that you take medicinal marijuana, and therefore they can expect your drug test to be positive.

Be upfront, confident and to the point: you have nothing to hide or be ashamed of.
Bring documentation of your condition (your prescription, a signed letter from your doctor and, if possible, a letter from a lawyer explaining that medicinal marijuana is legal in your state).

I don't think it will be a big deal. I am not really familiar with American law, but I doubt your employer could legally fire you for that.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 2:41 PM on August 22, 2007

By the way, think long term: if it emerges down the road that you have been smoking marijuana all along, it will be much more difficult to explain and you will look really shady.

Worse, they could determine that there is marijuana and no Marinol which, to the casual observer, looks like you were being deliberately deceptive.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 2:47 PM on August 22, 2007

Count Ziggurat: I don't think they could tell you were smoking weed and not taking Marinol. Marinol is straight THC... which is in marijuana as well, so they could tell if you were taking Marinol alone, but not weed alone.

IANAP (I am not a pharmacologist)
posted by phrontist at 3:02 PM on August 22, 2007

Ziggurat: many American jurisdictions are what is called "work at will" (or something like that - not sure what). Basically what that means is, with some exceptions (ethnicity, gender, etc) an employer can fire an employee for whatever reason, and an employee can quit for any reason.

In theory, the OP might be safe since his/her marijuana/Marinol use is medicinal (and thus covered under Section 504 of the Rehab Act and/or the Americans with Disabilities Act), but since marijuana is not considered a drug in all jurisdictions, there's no guarantee. (It's not clear which is being used, or if it's both, so I'm assuming marijuana; Marinol use would be protected under those laws, but that doesn't protect the user from people muttering, 'damn pothead' and firing him for 'poor performance' or whatever.) IANAL.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 7:55 PM on August 22, 2007

Medicinal marijuana is in a strange limbo in many jurisdictions right now. While it may be legal in your state, it is still very much illegal under federal law, and you can be prosecuted and jailed by the federal government for using it. Given this fact, your firm may still have a problem with you using it, and they can still fire you for breaking federal law if you admit to using it.

You are under no obligation to disclose your medical condition or any treatments to your employers unless you are seeking accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. You do not need, nor do you want, to talk to your employer about your use of marijuana. You should bring your Marinol prescription and a note from your doctor to the drug testing center and give it directly to the testing center personnel. The center should disclose it to your company only as necessary to report the results of your drug test. The information about your medical treatment is covered under the ADA and cannot be placed in your personnel file or disclosed to your superiors or coworkers except as required for human resources administration at your company.

I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice. I'm just a policy nerd who has done a lot of research on drug testing.
posted by decathecting at 10:14 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

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