Marijuana in the workplace: National Safety Council’s new position

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What employers need to know and why it matters.

To date, 33 states and the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws in some form. In addition, 11 states have gone a step further, legalizing marijuana for recreational use. With all of this change, the state of the world’s most popular illicit drug has become a bit cloudy.

“At this time, NSC believes there is no level of cannabis use that is safe or acceptable for employees who work in safety sensitive positions.” – National Safety Council, Cannabis Impairment in Safety Sensitive Positions.

The Position Taken

The National Safety Council (NSC) has stepped up to add a little clarity to the situation. In a recent announcement, the NSC took a well-defined position on cannabis use and safety in the workplace. The not-for-profit NSC—a national workplace safety advocate for more than 100 years—urges employers to restrict the use of cannabis for employees in safety-sensitive positions. It’s a policy position that is relevant no matter the state marijuana laws.

The Rationale for the Position

The NSC has long guided employers on safety in the workplace. Through their direction and leadership, the council has helped companies adopt policies that increase safety for people who are on the job. Their position is influenced by a World Health Organization report showing that cannabis is the most widely consumed illicit substance on the planet. Additionally, a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that when compared to employees who tested negative, employees who tested positive for the drug are:

  • 55% more likely to have industrial accidents
  • 85% more likely to be injured
  • 75% more likely to have absenteeism

Why this matters to employers

In an October 21, 2019 press release, Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of NSC, was quite explicit, saying, “Research clearly shows that cannabis impacts a person’s psychomotor skills and cognitive ability. In order to protect our employees and those around them, we need to acknowledge the impairing effects of cannabis. We urge employers to implement policies stating no amount of cannabis consumption is acceptable for those who work in safety-sensitive positions.”

Both the NSC and another organization, the Occupational and Environmental Medical Group, have urged Congress to take worker safety into account when considering marijuana legalization. Needless to say, things are in flux. And, this is why the NSC position is so profound. It provides clarity and direction in the ever-changing world of state marijuana legislation.

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