Marijuana Legalization Raises Worker Safety Concerns

Heading into November, marijuana is legal in 19 states and D.C. Of those 19 states, 13 and D.C. had legalized marijuana through the ballot measure process. In 2022, five more states will decide on marijuana legalization ballot measures. In the central U.S., voters in Arkansas, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota will consider citizen-initiated measures to legalize marijuana. In Maryland, the state legislature voted to put the issue before voters.

Legal or not marijuana usage impacts job safety. According to the National Safety Council, THC in marijuana affects depth perception, reaction time, coordination, and other motor skills, and it creates sensory distortion. For someone operating machinery, driving a forklift, or delivering products in a vehicle, these effects can be deadly.

According to a study reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, employees who tested positive for marijuana had 55% more industrial accidents, 85% more injuries and 75% greater absenteeism compared to those who tested negative. Also impacting the bottom line are:

            • Decreased productivity

            • Increased worker and unemployment compensation claims

            • High turnover

            • Lawsuits

Marijuana is the most frequently used illicit drug of abuse in the United States and the drug most often detected in workplace drug testing. In 2016, about one in five (7.2 million) Americans ages 18 to 25 self-identified as current users of marijuana, and about 15.2 million adults (7.2%) ages 26 and older used marijuana, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

A solid workplace drug policy can go a long way to keeping your organization drug-free.

What makes a good drug policy?

Studies show drug testing works; employees are three times less likely to produce a positive test result if they know they will be tested. An expanded testing panel that also includes the most commonly misused prescription drugs may better protect your workforce. An employer policy also should include:

            • Proper management training to make managers more likely to enforce the policy

            • Access to support for employees with drug problems, which can range from a formal assistance program to a referral to local resources

            • Clearly defined use and possession parameters for employees

            • Established rules for post-accident testing

            • Rules on how you will handle an employee’s conviction or arrest

A drug policy must be very specific and supported by workplace procedures to reduce the chance of litigation. Drug policy and workplace procedures should be reviewed by a lawyer to ensure they comply with state laws. And, policy must be updated frequently to keep up with changing laws and attitudes. The health and safety of your workforce depends on it.

Members of our Association have no-cost access to top-notch legal advice on any HR issue as a benefit of membership. To learn more about this and other valuable membership benefits, give our director of membership services, Matt Rice at call at 314.878.2304 or email  

Source: National Safety Council, National Institute on Drug Abuse