How Cannabis and the Workplace Safety Coexist—or Don’t

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How Cannabis and Workplace Safety Coexist——or Don’t

As discussions heat up about whether or not, or how, Congress will legalize marijuana, other niche questions come with the discussion. One main concern is how marijuana will be treated in the workplace. The Occupational Medical Society asks Congress to really consider what legalization would mean for workers around the country.

Marijuana’s legalization is a number of U.S. states—medically recreationally or both—has had huge public and workplace health implications. The American College of Occupational Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) asks Congress to seriously consider workplace safety when dealing with the complex issue of cannabis legalization.

Because marijuana’s long-term health effects are still largely unknown, and because marijuana is a substance that can impair the user, many have reservations about allowing employees to use cannabis if it might interfere with their jobs. Of the 33 states (and District of Columbia) that have legalized the medical and/or recreational use of the drug, the majority of Americans live and work in a state that allow some form of legal marijuana use.

ACOEM believes marijuana should be at the forefront of any policy discussions that the Food and Drug Administration has in the coming year regarding cannabinoids. Last week, ACOEM sent all members of Congress a statement on the Legalization of Marijuana—Implications for Workplace Safety. It expresses the organization’s belief that the current patchwork of laws to address marijuana use and workplace safety is detrimental to employees, employers, and the general public.

“While there is much not known about marijuana, what is known is that marijuana can cause impairment which will interfere with safe and acceptable performance in the workplace,” said ACOEM President Steven Frangos, MD. “Furthermore, this is particularly concerning for those individuals working in safety-sensitive positions where impairment can affect the health and safety of other workers, customers, the general public, or others.”

ACOEM also notes that employers have a legal responsibility under OSHA’s general duty clause to protect employees from workplace illness or injury, and an ethical responsibility to prevent impaired workers from exposing themselves, their co-workers, and/or the general public to risk of harm.

Given what is known about marijuana, and what is expected of employers, ACOEM says it strongly supports legislative proposals that allow employers to prohibit their employees from working under the influence of marijuana. The organization finds this particularly important for employees working in safety-sensitive positions.

ACOEM’s statement gives one specific example: if Congress removes marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act, employers must be allowed to “obtain objective measurement of body fluid levels of marijuana” from their employees.

According to one Insurance Journal article, there have been bills filed in Congress that would legalize and tax marijuana at the national level, and provide opportunities for people convicted of federal pot crimes to clear their records.

Workplace safety is a nation-wide concern, and the legalization of marijuana has a large part in that discussion. However, marijuana is applicable to so many other discussions about public health, the education system, and the economy on the federal and state levels—to name a few.

For example, last month the U.S. House advanced legislation called the SAFE Act designed to let banks do business with cannabis companies in states that permit marijuana sales. This is a step that many see as helping pave the way to nationwide legalization.

Federal health officials recently issued a national warning against marijuana use by teenagers and pregnant women.

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