Regulatory Developments, Special Topics in Safety Management

Illinois Marijuana Law Raises Roadway, Workplace Safety Concerns

The National Safety Council (NSC) raised concerns about roadway and workplace safety after Illinois’s governor signed a bill allowing recreational marijuana use in the state.

Marijuana legalization, law

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Legislatures should simultaneously pass laws restricting marijuana-impaired driving and marijuana impairment at work when passing laws to decriminalize or legalize cannabis possession and use, the Council said in a statement.

Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Now, 34 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized either medical or recreational marijuana use.

The NSC is attempting to raise public awareness of the impact on safety of cannabis use. Effects can include:

  • Increased risk of injury on roads and in the workplace due to the effects of marijuana use on cognitive dexterity, judgment, and reflexes—effects similar to those of alcohol consumption and opioid use;
  • The differing effects of cannabis depending on an individual’s body composition and how the drug is consumed; tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive agent in marijuana, is stored in body fat; and
  • An increase in motor vehicle accidents involving THC in states following passage of medical or recreational marijuana laws.

Employers’ Rights

Employers may establish drug and alcohol policies for their workplaces, regardless of marijuana’s legality in individual states, the NSC said. The NSC and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) encourage employers to set up substance abuse policies.

Elements of a substance abuse policy recommended by SHRM include:

  • Statement of the purpose and scope of the program and who is covered by the policy;
  • Description of when and under what circumstances drug or alcohol testing will be conducted and a statement about the confidentiality of test results;
  • Definition of what constitutes abuse and procedures for dealing with impaired workers;
  • Availability of assistance programs for those who voluntarily seek help for impairment issues; and
  • Disciplinary actions to be taken for violations of the policy.

The NSC recommends employers incorporate additional elements into a substance abuse program that include:

  • A broad definition of impairment that includes all forms of impairing drugs and alcohol, whether prescribed, legal, illegal, synthetic, or otherwise;
  • A substance-free awareness worker education program;
  • Training for workers, supervisors, and managers in recognizing impaired behavior and substance use disorders; and
  • Provisions for early intervention and assistance for workers with a potential substance use disorder.

The NSC acknowledges growing employer concerns about marijuana legalization, prescription opioid abuse, and heroin use; but the group believes any form of impairment increases the risk of preventable accidents and injuries in the workplace. The NSC pointed to a study that found that the cost of excessive alcohol consumption in the United States was estimated to be $249 billion in a single year.

Support for Impairment Laws

There is widespread public support for laws prohibiting marijuana-impaired driving and workplace impairment, according to a recent NSC survey. Sixty-one percent of respondents cited impairment at work as a safety concern; and 55 percent said employers should test for marijuana use, even if it is legal to use recreationally.

The NSC is a not-for-profit organization that includes occupational safety and health professionals but also advocates for safety in the home and on roadways.