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Workplace safety:Legal marijuana tied to injuries among young workers

Study finds 10 percent increase

Posted March 18, 2024

Recreational marijuana and young workers are not a safe combination, a new study shows.

State legalization of recreational marijuana is associated with a 10 percent increase in workplace injuries among those aged 20 to 34, according to a study published on February 23 in JAMA Health Forum. When only full-time workers were included in the data, there was an 11.9 percent rise.

This can be especially concerning in the construction industry, where work is often dangerous. From slips, trips, and falls to exposure to other hazards, working in construction brings a certain level of risk. Having workers impaired by marijuana use adds to the risk equation.

The significant uptick in injuries among young people occurred two to three years after a state adopted legal recreational marijuana, according to the study, which examined age-specific workplace injuries using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses.

Not an issue for older workers

A previous study that looked at injury data involving older workers came to a different conclusion.

The study, published in February 2023 in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, reviewed workers’ compensation benefits among adults aged 40 to 62. It found that workers’ compensation costs and nontraumatic injuries went down in that age group after a state legalized recreational marijuana.

Why the difference?

Legal marijuana may not have had a negative impact on workplace injuries for older workers because they were using it to manage pain, the JAMA study notes.

Among younger workers, the study’s authors noted that their findings are consistent with the theory that recreational marijuana negatively impacts cognitive function. It may also act as a gateway to harder drugs.

Protecting workers

Since 2012, recreational marijuana has been legalized in 24 states and Washington, D.C. Research from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration shows that 1 in 5 Americans used marijuana in the past year. After a state legalizes recreational marijuana, use increases.

State laws vary in regard to what employers may do to keep their workplaces safe in the era of legal marijuana, but in all states, employers can forbid:

  • The use of marijuana on company property and in company vehicles.
  • The use of marijuana on work time.
  • The possession or sale of marijuana in the workplace or on work time.
  • Worker impairment from marijuana.

Employers can also make sure supervisors and employees are aware of the workplace dangers that can arise when an employee is impaired because of marijuana use. They can:

  • Train supervisors to recognize the signs of impairment due to marijuana use.
  • Ensure that supervisors know what to do when those signs are observed.
  • Make employees aware of the workplace drug and alcohol policy.
  • Educate employees on the negative impact marijuana can have on workplace safety.

This article was written by Terri Dougherty of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

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