Canna Confessions: I Have To Hide My Smoking From My Job

When dumb policies force weed advocates to stay quiet or lose their jobs.

The good news: Legalization is sweeping the country state by state. The bad news? An employer still has the right to fire an employee for violating company drug policies—whether those drugs are legal or not.

That means even employees who do their jobs well can still be fired for using cannabis in their free time. While the stigma around marijuana use has diminished in recent years, many still can’t come out of the cannabis closet for fear of losing their jobs.

For instance, Joan*, a 49-year-old registered nurse who works at a prominent hospital in Northern California, doesn’t see the harm in smoking weed in her free time but would never open up about her lifestyle to her boss. “I don’t go to work intoxicated. I’m very responsible," she says. Still, "people are getting fired, even if they have a medical recommendation."

In the spring of 2016, Joan was diagnosed with a painful type of peripheral neuropathy, a condition that typically involves nerve damage in the hands and feet. Months later, she was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia, leaving her with a pain level of "six to nine" out of ten every day even while using prescription painkillers. It wasn’t until Joan began seeking other options that she discovered cannabis to be far more effective than the narcotics her doctors prescribed.

"Her employer also happens to be her medical provider... This also means she has to lie to her doctor about her marijuana use."

Because Joan works at a hospital, mostly with babies in the NICU, she feels she can never openly advocate for marijuana or talk about it with coworkers. Her employer also happens to be her medical provider, which means her medical files are available for her employer to read at any time. This also means she has to lie to her doctor about her marijuana use.

Other hospital employees, like 33-year-old laboratory clerk Doug*, have carefully opened up about their cannabis use at work only after establishing trust in certain coworkers. Despite working at a religious-based hospital in Southern California, Doug has been smoking marijuana recreationally for 12 years. “Two of my coworkers know, and this was only after establishing some sort of relationship or trust with them,” says Doug. “They opened up about it first [and] made hints about it.” Doug has noticed that while his coworkers have no issues talking about drinking openly, it’s more of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to anything else.

Image via VSCO

Like Joan, Lucy*, a 60-year-old, part-time theater teacher from Southern California, also regularly hides her marijuana use from her employer and coworkers. At the Christian school where she works, there are strict rules against otherwise normal activities like R-Rated movies, dancing, and drinking. “I would definitely get fired. There’s no doubt about it,” says Lucy. “I mean, they don’t even want me to do yoga. They’ve said ‘be careful with that, that can brainwash you.’ So I doubt they’d agree to any kind of pot use.”

Lucy smoked pot as a teenager, stopped when she got pregnant, and hadn’t smoked since. She started smoking again two years ago to help with anxiety and has since passed some along to her mother who now uses cannabis as a sleep aid.

While all three working adults deal with similar struggles, not everyone feels the same about their predicament. Joan gets frustrated when outdated assumptions take precedence over facts. While she would love to be a vocal weed advocate, citing the opioid crisis as a main reason for our need to switch to weed, she knows doing so would put her career at risk. Lucy, on the other hand, is so used to hiding the majority of her private life from her job that she isn’t as affected by their strict policies. Meanwhile, for Doug, hiding his marijuana has negatively impacted his social life with his coworkers. Without mutual honesty at work, he doesn’t see himself making the kind of deep, human connections he desires.

Even as state policies change, it’s unlikely employees will feel more comfortable opening up about their weedy lifestyles without federal recognition of pot’s benefits. And it’s high time this happened (pun intended). In Joan’s case, weed basically saved her life. And for Doug, weed makes him a better employee by decreasing the stresses of his work environment.

“I do have high hopes, I like to stay optimistic,” says Doug. “I’m hoping that one day there will be regular hospitals with a medical marijuana treatment center, or at least start experimenting with it. I don’t really know what’s holding them back.”

*Names have been changed. You can probably guess why.