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October 29, 2019
NSC opposes cannabis use in safety-sensitive jobs

The National Safety Council (NSC) issued a policy position on recent moves to decriminalize or legalize marijuana use, saying there is no acceptable level of use for workers in safety-sensitive positions. The NSC called on employers to restrict marijuana use by any employee in a position that impacts the safety of the employee and others as a result of performing that job.

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“Research clearly shows that cannabis impacts a person’s psychomotor skills and cognitive ability,” Lorraine M. Martin, NSC’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

The NSC said more comprehensive research is needed to better understand the effects cannabis has on the human mind and body.

“In order to protect our employees and those around them, we need to acknowledge the impairing effects of cannabis,” Martin said. “We urge employers to implement policies stating no amount of cannabis consumption is acceptable for those who work in safety[-]sensitive positions.”

The NSC supports moving people to non-safety-sensitive positions when using cannabis for medical purposes.

No test for impairment

The NSC said that because the amount of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) detectable in the body does not directly correlate to a degree of impairment, persons in safety-sensitive positions should not consume marijuana in any form, regardless of the legal status of cannabis in their state.

The NSC cited a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse showing that employees who tested positive for cannabis had 55 percent more industrial accidents and 85 percent more injuries than those who tested negative.

Cannabis affects the body in a number of ways, according to the NSC, including:

  • Psychological effects, such as disorientation, impaired judgment, lack of concentration, relaxation, and sedation;
  • Physiological effects, such as increased heart rate, reddening of the eyes, and slowed fine motor skills; and
  • Attention deficit, delayed decision-making, and impaired learning and short-term memory possibly caused by the above effects.

Employer concerns

Employers are faced with a rapidly evolving legal landscape. Possession and use of marijuana remain illegal on the federal level. It still is a Schedule I substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act. There now are medical marijuana statutes in 34 states and Washington, D.C. Ten states and D.C. also have approved it for recreational use, and Illinois becomes the 11th state to allow recreational use beginning next year.

The NSC has continued to survey employers about their concerns regarding employee marijuana use and its effect on public and workplace safety. The Council’s survey earlier this year found:

  • 81 percent of employers were concerned about the drug having a negative impact on their workforce;
  • 71 percent indicated their organization’s written policies cover employee use of illicit cannabis, while only 54 percent said their policies cover employee use of legal or prescribed cannabis; and
  • 24 percent indicated they would dismiss an employee found to be misusing legal cannabis, such as being under the influence while on the job, but 7 percent said they would relocate the employee to a position of lesser responsibility.
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