With medical and recreational marijuana quickly becoming legal across the U.S., many physicians and non-physicians alike are asking themselves: Can doctors smoke weed, too?
The answer is a complicated one, but once you’ve finished this piece, you should have a better understanding of the legal ramifications of smoking (or ingesting) marijuana as a doctor.
To understand if physicians can (or more importantly, should) smoke marijuana, you need to first understand the general state of marijuana legalization in the U.S. First, you need to know that even though many states have legalized recreational and medical marijuana programs, marijuana is not federally legal in any way.
As of early 2022, there are 20 states that have recreational marijuana programs, meaning you do not need a medical license in order to purchase THC products (as long as you’re 21+, of course).
While this means that anyone of age can legally smoke marijuana, medical staff have found that the same rules don’t always apply to them. As you’ll read in a moment, employers are really the final decision makers when it comes to smoking recreationally or medically.
It’s faster to list the states that don’t have medical or recreational marijuana programs. Those without any form of legal marijuana include:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
In these states, it’s safe to say that any physician who smokes or ingests marijuana - whether medically or not - could lose their license if this was discovered.
The Future of Legalization
Many states have recognized the benefits of cannabis use. There’s a movement to make cannabis recreational on the federal level. In fact, a study by WebMD and Medscape showed that many physicians support this legalization.
Do Doctors Smoke Weed?
We know many physicians support the medicinal properties of cannabis, but do doctors smoke weed? Well, according to a 2015 Medscape study, 7% of doctors report that they smoke marijuana. Of the doctors who smoke weed, the study found that emergency medicine staff are more likely to use cannabis than any other specialty polled.
Since legalization has looked different in every state, different protocols have been set in each. While any state that hasn’t legalized medical or recreational will automatically see marijuana use as grounds for firing, states with legalized programs have some differing beliefs.
California is the most lenient...
California (in most cases) treats marijuana use similarly to alcohol use. The Medical Board of California has no strict law against marijuana use, but it does have rules against physicians working while under the influence of any mind-altering substance.
Washington has had multiple court cases...
On the other hand, you’ll find stories that prove, even in states where marijuana is legal, that physicians may run into issues if they use marijuana outside of the workplace. An article in Vice mentions a case in Washington state (where marijuana is legal both recreationally and medically) and lays out multiple instances where employees who smoked on their personal time were being reported for failed drug tests.
As the piece points out, the consequences can be severe. Vice talked with Yolanda Ng’s, whose case led to legal proceedings and the possibility of losing her license altogether.
Colorado has revoked medical licenses...
It’s clear that doctors are rarely covered under any sort of protections, even when using cannabis for medical purchases. The case of a Colorado doctor, Paul Bregman proves this. He used cannabis to treat his bipolar disorder and still lost his license when his hospital found out he was using marijuana habitually. In fact, he let the state know that his use of medical marijuana was truly helping his mental health and that resulted in a three-year battle that ultimately ended in his license being suspended.
As a whole, the Colorado medical board has taken a stand on marijuana use for doctors: they’re against it. Any doctor that is found using THC products is deemed unfit to practice medicine in the eyes of the board.
Since the legality of marijuana is in a middle-stage, the rules are really up to your employer. There are a number of states that do offer safeguards under the Medical Cannabis Anti-Discrimination Employee Protection program. This applies to anyone with a medical card, but since it’s not a federally mandated protection, the program isn’t always upheld for medical staff.
Again, since marijuana is only legal on the state level, states will have hugely different processes for testing for marijuana use.
Back in 2014 California took it to the voters with Proposition 46. This Proposition would require all medical doctors to submit to random drug and alcohol screenings. And to add on, all positive results would be required to be disclosed to the public. Ultimately, this Proposition failed, and was deeply opposed by most medical practitioners.
While private practice doctors are not subject to drug screenings, those that work in certain hospitals or in group practices often are. So always take your employer’s rules into consideration.
Much of the medical community still waits on answers regarding marijuana use amongst medical staff. At the end of the day, marijuana is still federally illegal, so anyone who consumes it, whether they’re a medical progressional or not, is subject to legal action.
The support for marijuana decriminalization and reform is stronger than ever, even amongst physicians, so there’s no telling what regulations will come up in the next few years.
Until then, it seems best that physicians avoid THC products, if possible. If not, there’s a relatively high chance that your license could be suspended in the event that the state or your employer discovers your marijuana use.
Doctors, nurses, and certain other medical professionals can use CBD in all 50 states, as long as there is no THC. Sounds well and good, but most CBD products do have some THC in them. The University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine performed a study and found that 18 out of 84 different CBD oils tested contained THC.
Since you’ll be likely subject to routine drug-testing if you work in the medical field, having any THC in your body can trigger a positive test. So make sure you do your research and stick to products that are guaranteed to not contain THC.
Christopher Murray received a B.A. in English Literature and Gender Studies from Smith College. He now lives in Maine with his husband where he spends his free time watching reruns of The X-Files and dreaming of traveling in a refurbished VW Bus while writing the next Great American Novel. Chris has extensive writing and editing experience across a range of industries, but with a specialty in personal finance and investing.