If you put it up to a vote, the drug of choice on Wall Street in the 1980s and ‘90s was surely cocaine. Come the turn of the century, legal prescription amphetamines designed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) became more prevalent – first Ritalin and then Adderall. As stressed out and perhaps overly-amped investment bankers and traders looked for a respite from work-related pressures, anxiety medication entered the mix. The use of Xanax and related anxiety drugs, along with sleep medication like Ambien, started becoming more rampant on Wall Street over the last 10 years. Now, one of the oldest drugs in the world has taken over as the new crutch for people working in finance.
Interviews with numerous people in the industry suggest that marijuana has taken on a much bigger role as a stress reliever – even trumping alcohol for many who don’t want to deal with tomorrow’s aftereffects. “It’s shifted to weed, weed and weed,” said one hedge fund manager. “New York City is leading the nation in pot usage and it also leads the nation in hedge funds per capita.”
A longtime New York investment banker said that more and more people have experienced the downside of medication – physical addiction and the eventual loss of efficacy – and believe pot to be a safer and more effective alternative in dealing with the stresses of working in finance. And for at least a select few, it’s not always an off-the-clock activity. One trader said he has a friend who works at a prominent private equity firm who smokes pot using a vape pen in the bathroom of his office.
The lighter penalties for possession of marijuana in New York – police now issue tickets for small amounts, rather than make arrests – along with the full decriminalization of pot in several states has removed some of the stigma, according to financial pros. “It’s a normal, everyday habit for a lot of people I work with,” said the investment banker. “It wasn’t always that way.”
All that said, bankers who are looking to switch firms are in a somewhat unique position. While many smaller hedge funds don’t conduct pre-employment drug tests – one former trader who worked at three different funds said he was never tested – most big investment banks do. Moreover, banks that operate nationally are forced to follow federal laws, and marijuana is still illegal on a federal level, even if it’s been legalized by the state in question.
Interestingly, a consultant recently told us that he wasn’t tested by his employer, but his group was forced to by a client they were working for on-site. He said it only happened once, but once can be enough. Fair warning.
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