NSC Releases Federal Policy Position on Cannabis Use in Safety Sensitive Jobs

In a policy position released yesterday, the National Safety Council states that no amount of marijuana or other THC products is allowed for employees working in safety sensitive positions.

With the widespread legalization, decriminalization, and availability of marijuana across the U.S., many have raised concerns on how the illicit drug will be regulated for employees in the workplace. While state laws on the drug vary for medical and recreational use, the NSC just announced a federal position on the drug in safety sensitive positions.

The conversation on cannabis as it relates to the workplace is nothing new. A recent article explains how many health professionals and medical organizations have urged Congress to consider the health and safety implications of lenient laws and regulations against cannabis in the workplace.

Because the drug does impact psychomotor skills and cognitive abilities, the federal government has announced that it will not allow cannabis use for employees in safety positions. This is understandable—especially since, unlike alcohol, the body’s level of marijuana does not correlate to impairment level.

By adopting this position, NSC will be able to increase involvement in the policy discussion about cannabis impairment. It will be able to provide guidance for employers as they consider changing laws on cannabis for employees.

The long-term effects of marijuana are undetermined and still being studied. However, researchers do have notable data on the drug already. Research does indicate that marijuana impacts psychomotor skills and cognitive ability. However, the amount of THC detectable in the body does not directly correlate to a degree of impairment, unlike alcohol. This means that a person can test for a low or high amount of cannabis in his or her system, but that does not indicate a certain level of impairment.

Cannabis is the most widely consumed illicit substance worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. In 2015, the World Drug Report estimated over 200 million people between ages 15 and 64 ingested cannabis.

However, national reports indicate that cannabis has direct effects on employees in the workplace. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, employees who tested positive for cannabis had:

  • 55 more industrial incidents
  • 85 percent more injuries
  • 75 percent greater absenteeism compared to those who tested negative

For those who are not convinced there are routine and identifiable psychological effects of cannabis, the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that those who use cannabis routinely have the following psychological reactions: relaxation, sedation, disorientation, impaired judgement, and lack of concentration.

The drug has physical implications as well: fine motor skills, reddening of the eyes, increased appetite, dry mouth, and increased heart rate. These effects all contribute to impaired learning, short-term memory and attention deficits, and delayed decision-making.

Still, despite marijuana’s widespread use around the country, laws on cannabis differ by state and federal laws. While medical cannabis is legal in 46 states, it is federally illegal. The federal government regulates drugs through the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which does not differentiate between medical and recreational cannabis use. The CSA considers cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning that the federal government views cannabis as having no medical value and high abuse potential.

Therefore, there are no federally approved prescriptions for cannabis use. Doctors may not “prescribe” cannabis for medical use under federal law; however, they can “recommend” its use under the First Amendment.

The federal policy does note that more research is needed to make a consensus on any of the mentioned cannabis-related subjects. Yet, studies continue. There are many anecdotal studies on a variety of cannabis-related subjects, including but not limited to assessing and defining the THC relationship to impairment, examining other safety implicates related to driving and vehicle rashes, potential medical uses and benefits, and more.

These considerations aside, one conclusion had been made: employees in safety sensitive jobs are not permitted to use marijuana.

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