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Marijuana, and Safety in the Workplace

Rapid legalization, increasing use and conflicting laws are a confusing blend for employers and safety professionals attempting to set workplace drug policies and protect workers. 

An extensive article in National Safety Council’s Safety+Health magazine about marijuana and worker safety is well worth taking to time to read. Many employers are facing the ever-challenging task of how they are supposed to deal with employees who may be using medical marijuana, and, before too long, recreational marijuana. (It would be naïve of us to suggest many employees in all fields and trades don’t already smoke pot.) 

At issue is not the legality of pot but the residual effects of it on users: “Unlike alcohol, which is water-soluble, the lipid-soluble psychoactive substances in marijuana can be stored in fatty tissue in the body and be released over an extended period of time. Impairment may last anywhere from hours to weeks, depending on a variety of factors (as well as which studies you read).”  said Robert Goldsmith, co-author of “Medical Marijuana in the Workplace. Thus, even though a worker who smoked a day or more before a work shift may appear to be unimpaired, he or she may be simply due to THC still active in their bloodstream, according to Goldsmith. 

Some points from the article, and then I’d encourage you to read more in Clearing the air on marijuana 

  • -Effects may be long-lasting 

  • -There’s no definitive way to detect impairment short of a neurological test 

  • -Many users believe they can function normally while under the influence 

  • -As determine by blood testing for THC, 5 nanograms per millimeter is roughly equivalent to 0.04 percent blood alcohol 

  • -Employers have options and can follow federal law on the use of marijuana.  

  • -Employers may be required to provide reasonable accommodations for those who use medical marijuana. 

I’d warn against thinking this will go away, especially with the ever-growing push to legalize recreational marijuana. State and federal law may be one thing; the ability to work safely on the job is another.