Perspectives: Lawyers and Marijuana

By Bryan R. Welch, March 01, 2020

We recently had the opportunity to talk with some lawyers who agreed to share their experiences in using and in trying to stop using marijuana. Below are some of their comments – how and when they started using, how their use progressed, and what they did in meeting the challenges they faced with their pot use.

When did you start using and what was your early use like?

  • I was 16 when I first started smoking pot.
  • I started smoking at 17 right before my senior year in high school.
  • At first, I wasn’t using daily, but it slowly, gradually progressed.
  • At the start, I felt like my use was casual; I simply used because I wanted to, not because I had to. (Or at least that’s what I told myself.)
  • Initially, I resisted using any drugs other than alcohol. I had a family member who was a drug addict, and I told myself I would never be like that person. However, I found myself using pot at a party, and I felt it gave me many of the same benefits as alcohol, but without any of the negative consequences.
  • Pot made me feel like I fit in. It made everything seem better … family problems, social anxiety; basically it calmed the discomforts of life.

Did you use in college/law school?

  • By the time I got to college, and throughout law school, I was using pretty much every day. I got good grades and didn’t really see my pot use as a problem with my studies. I felt like I was “high functioning” and could do well despite my increasing pot use.
  • During my college years, I was arrested for possession and also was involved in a vehicular incident where someone was hurt, but this did not impede my pot use.
  • During my law school orientation, I remember a faculty member talking about life issues including addiction. We were told, “If you’re using a drug that you started using recreationally and it now has control of your life, you should contact the OAAP.” The words resonated with me and gave me some hope … but I still wasn’t ready to stop.
  • I only applied to law schools in those states where pot was legal.
  • My tolerance was definitely increasing – I kept needing to use more and more. By this time, I was using mostly edibles and oils because of the higher THC concentrations. I even had THC sugar packets for my coffee.

How did your using progress as a practicing lawyer?

  • Once I became a lawyer, my use continued to increase. I told myself that my pot use was mainly stress-related.
  • By the last time I tried to quit, I was smoking several times throughout the day. It had become a ritual.
  • I experimented with edibles and vaping, but found smoking gave me the kind of high that I felt like I needed.

What were one or two of the primary factors that encouraged you to stop using pot?

  • I just felt like my use was totally out of control.
  • Family and friends were telling me that I smoked too much.
  • I felt like my pot use was affecting my personal relationships, including my family relationships. I felt I wasn’t as present as I should have been and wanted to be.
  • As my pot use increased during my practice, it seemed like I was turning inward and becoming more and more isolated from the people around me.
  • When my pot use was at its highest, I found I was working less at the office.
  • I felt isolated; I didn’t care about much of anything.

Had you tried to stop using before?

  • I had tried to stop a few times, but never for very long.
  • Yes, I’d tried to stop before. But my efforts generally had less to do with me actually wanting to stop and more because of external pressures, like fear of being caught or being tested.
  • I tried a few times to stop. In law school, I contacted an OAAP attorney counselor. I got a few weeks of clean time, felt OK, and thought I was “fixed” and I could use again. So I did, and it wasn’t long until I was right back to where I had been before.

Did you have challenges getting into recovery? If so, what got in your way?

  • The main thing that kept me from quitting pot was just plain inertia.
  • I looked at a treatment program years ago, but it was too expensive. I never tried going to 12-step meetings, primarily because I thought that was only for alcoholics and addicted people off the street, not someone like me. It was only later that I found out how wrong I had been about 12-step meetings.
  • Once I decided to get help, it really wasn’t that hard. I contacted the OAAP and worked with one of their attorney counselors.
  • I kept saying, “I can handle this by myself.”
  • Even though I knew what I needed to do, I basically just wasn’t ready to stop my pot use.
  • I did not get into recovery when I probably should have. I resisted and delayed to avoid seriously doing anything about my pot use. I just isolated and self-medicated.
  • Initially, I told myself that perhaps my pot use over the years had changed my brain chemistry, and maybe I needed THC on a daily basis just to feel normal.

What kinds of things, activities, and/or practices do you do to maintain your recovery?

  • Trying to get regular exercise and going to my MA (Marijuana Anonymous) meetings. I average about two meetings per week.
  • I have learned to ask for help when I need it.
  • 12-step meetings are probably the focal point of my recovery. They are a really important part of my life today.
  • Many of my friends are in recovery and that’s very supportive for me.
  • I do pro bono work in the community.
  • I seek outside help, which means I talk with my counselor at the OAAP about professional and recovery-related issues. I also have a therapist for other issues.
  • I have a recovery “sponsor,” someone who is in longer-term recovery and is available for me to talk with and be supportive and encouraging.
  • One thing I’ve learned is that my recovery must be a priority in my life. I am in a long-term personal relationship, and have a career that I like and where people depend on me. I even just got a puppy. I need to keep in mind that I wouldn’t have any of those things if I went back to using.

Has your life in recovery affected your personal relationships and/or your professional life? If so, how?

  • Primarily, I’m more present with the people who are important in my life. And I feel better about myself because I addressed my problem.
  • First of all, I actually have relationships now. Prior to recovery, I lived alone, and I didn’t have many friends. I had pushed family away and those relationships became frayed.
  • In recovery, prior relationships that had become problematic gradually began to heal. I became more willing to be part of other people’s lives and let them in. I actually met my partner in recovery. I’m able to be present for my extended family, even though we live far apart.
  • In my professional life, I find I get more work done.
  • In recovery, I have learned how to have healthy relationships with my professional colleagues, co-workers, and clients. I’ve learned to be more flexible, to learn from my colleagues, and to be better able to talk candidly with my clients. I think they respect that. Respect is not something I thought I could get when I was using, but now I feel it’s possible.

What have you noticed most about how life was/is different for you in recovery?

  • Simple: It feels good not to be under the control of a habit.
  • One thing for me that has changed is that I find I have a more positive view of myself. I no longer have a worldview that the glass is always half empty – today I am more positive about life.
  • I’m more focused on what I can give rather than what I can get. As part of my recovery, I get to work with other people who are struggling. I find this very rewarding.

Are there any tips you would give to a lawyer considering getting into recovery?

  • Overcoming an addictive or habitual use of drugs is generally something you cannot do on your own. “Find your tribe” – find others who are struggling with the same issues or problems and who are coming together seeking recovery.
  • Explore the recovery meetings at the OAAP, recovery meetings like Marijuana Anonymous (MA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
  • Trust your intuition. If you think that you might have a problem, seek the help that’s available, whether that’s individual counseling, treatment, or 12-step programs.
  • Give yourself a chance. When using, I lacked imagination as to what my life could be in recovery. I didn’t know I could live without drugs and alcohol. I thought I needed them to be social, to quiet the noise in my head. I learned I really didn’t need these substances. A sober life is a life worth living.

Our special thanks to the lawyers who shared their perspectives with us.

OAAP has four confidential recovery meetings every week for Oregon lawyers, judges, and law students. Call 503.226.1057 or 800.321.6227.

Douglas S. Querin, JD, LPC, CADC I OAAP Attorney Counselor

Bryan R. Welch, JD, CADC I
OAAP Attorney Counselor

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