Safety Issues Wafting Around Marijuana Use in the Workplace

Source: Jan Havlicek - 123RF

Marijuana – made from dried leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant – is legal for medicinal use in 33 states and for recreational use in 10 states, plus the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico. This trend toward legalization shows no sign of stopping.

According to a comprehensive report in Safety + Health, a 2016 Gallup poll found that 13 percent of U.S. adults said they use marijuana – up from 7 percent in 2013.

Meanwhile, marijuana (cannabis) still is illegal under federal law, listed as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act.

Rapid legalization, increasing use and conflicting laws are a confusing blend for employers and safety professionals attempting to set workplace drug policies and protect workers. It also doesn’t help that marijuana itself presents some unusual complexities.

Data on the dangers of marijuana impairment is inconclusive. For example, “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids,” a comprehensive review of current research published in 2017 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, found “substantial evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and increased risk of motor vehicle crashes,” citing one meta-analysis that linked driving under the influence to a 20 percent to 30 percent higher risk of being involved in a crash.

However, the same review found “insufficient evidence to support or refute” a connection between marijuana use and occupational incidents or injuries.

A November 2016 survey conducted by the Colorado Department of Transportation found that 55 percent of marijuana users said it was safe to drive while under the influence.

The report adds that the growing prevalence of marijuana legality and use means that even if employers and safety professionals are not confronting the issue now, chances are they will be soon.

All of the complexity and confusion swirling around marijuana points to the need for employers to set (and consistently enforce) clear, detailed and well-thought-out policies. Depending on state laws, an employer might take the approach of prohibiting marijuana use for employees in positions designated as safety-sensitive.