Group Warns Congress Legalized Cannabis Is Workplace Risk

October 21, 2019

A group of occupational medicine doctors is warning that legalization of marijuana has “huge” public and workplace health and safety implications that Congress should consider when dealing with the issue.

The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) said the current “patchwork of laws to address marijuana use and workplace safety is detrimental to employees, employers and the general public” in a statement, Legalization of Marijuana – Implications for Workplace Safety, which it sent to all members of Congress this month.

The group’s member physicians deal with occupational health, safety and environmental issues. They told Congress they support giving employers flexibility to deal with marijuana use by workers and “strongly” support legislation to allow employers to prohibit employees in safety-sensitive positions from working while under the influence of marijuana.

“Employers have a legal responsibility to protect employees from workplace illness or injury under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s general duty clause. Employers also have an ethical responsibility to prevent impaired workers from exposing themselves, their co-workers, and/or the general public to risk of harm,” the statement says.

ACOEM is urging legislators to carefully consider the impact of any federal marijuana legislation on workplace safety. “While there is much not known about marijuana, what is known is that marijuana can cause impairment which will interfere with safe and acceptable performance in the workplace,” said ACOEM President Steven Frangos, MD, of Houston. “Furthermore, this is particularly concerning for those individuals working in safety-sensitive positions where impairment can affect the health and safety of other workers, customers, the general public, or others.”

To date, 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the medical and/or recreational use of marijuana. The group says that there is no consensus among the states on what are “safety-sensitive” positions or when employers may conduct drug testing or institute a zero-tolerance drug policy for those positions.

If Congress removes marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act, employers must be allowed to “obtain objective measurement of body fluid levels of marijuana,” the statement adds.

There have been bills filed in Congress that would legalize and tax marijuana at the national level, and provide opportunities for people convicted of federal pot crimes to clear their records.

The U.S. House last month advanced legislation called the SAFE Act designed to let banks do business with cannabis companies in states that permit marijuana sales, a step that some supporters see as helping to pave the way to nationwide legalization.

Federal health officials recently issued a national warning against marijuana use by teenagers and pregnant women.

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