Special Topics in Safety Management

NSC Urges House to Consider Safety Implications of Cannabis Bill

The National Safety Council (NSC), the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), and 20 other safety organizations urged House members to hold hearings on the workplace and public safety implications of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019 (H.R. 3884).

Marijuana legalization, law

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The act would remove cannabis from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act, according to the Congressional Research Service, and eliminate criminal penalties for individuals who manufacture, distribute, or possess marijuana.

In a letter to Representative Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the bill’s sponsor, the NSC and its partners noted that cannabis use impairs psychomotor skills and negatively impacts attention and decision-making and that this impairment poses a significant risk to workers, coworkers, customers, and the public. The groups expressed concern about the implications for workplace health and safety that the MORE Act could have.

“Employers have an obligation to maintain safe workplaces, and without a better understanding of the impact on workplace safety, these changes will affect the safety of workers, their co-workers, and the general public,” Lorraine M. Martin, the NSC’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

Worker impairment due to drug use has remained a top employer concern in repeated polls conducted by the NSC.

Marijuana can impair judgment and performance much like alcohol, the groups said in the letter. However, there are no generally available functional marijuana sobriety or impairment tests or scientifically established cutoff levels for impairment. The groups voiced concerns about crane, forklift, or train operators and bus or truck drivers “driving under the influence” of decriminalized cannabis.

The groups urged Nadler to hold workers in safety-sensitive positions to a higher standard until a scientifically valid method to identify impairment has been developed. They also pointed out that the states that have legalized the adult recreational use of cannabis have failed to form a consensus on what occupations are considered safety-sensitive positions and when employers may conduct drug testing or institute a zero-tolerance drug policy for those positions.

They asked that House members hold hearings on the workplace and public safety implications of legalizing cannabis without any mechanism to determine legal impairment.

The NSC last year adopted a policy position stating that the “legalization or decriminalization of cannabis may increase vehicle crash rates, hospitalizations, and other public health indicators.” The NSC’s policy position is that “there is no level of cannabis use that is safe or acceptable for employees who work in safety sensitive positions.”

The NSC has cited National Institute on Drug Abuse research showing that employees who tested positive for cannabis had 55% more industrial incidents, 85% more injuries, and 75% greater absenteeism compared with those who tested negative. Quest Diagnostics last year reported that marijuana positivity increased by more than 33% between 2015 and 2017.

Groups signing onto the letter along with the ACOEM and the NSC included industry groups like the American Public Gas Association, American Trucking Associations, Associated General Contractors, and Association of American Railroads.

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