Occupational safety and health experts are urging the U.S. Congress to go slow and consider workplace safety when taking on the legalization of marijuana. Although recreational and medical marijuana are still prohibited under federal law, it is legal in 33 states and the District of Columbia – and counting. That has created a patchwork of laws that address marijuana use and workplace safety that is “detrimental to employees, employers, and the general public,” according to the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

“With most Americans living and working in states that allow some form of legal marijuana use, it is critical that safety be at the forefront of any policy discussions regarding the use of cannabinoids outside of the standard Food and Drug Administration approval process,” according to a statement issued by the group, Legalization of Marijuana – Implications for Workplace Safety. The statement was sent to all members of Congress last week.
The ACOEM, which is comprised of physicians and focused on the health of workers, safety of workplaces, and quality of environments, says the legalization of marijuana, has “huge public and workplace health implications.”

“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. “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.”
ACOEM notes that employers have a legal responsibility under OSHA’s general duty clause to protect employees fromS workplace illness or injury, and an ethical responsibility to prevent impaired workers from exposing themselves, their co-workers, and/or the general public to risk of harm. Therefore, regardless of marijuana’s legal status in a jurisdiction, ACOEM strongly supports legislative proposals that allow employers to prohibit those employed in safety-sensitive positions from working while under the influence of marijuana.


The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), an international society of more than 4,000 occupational physicians and associated professionals, provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments. Occupational and environmental medicine is the medicine specialty devoted to prevention and management of occupational and environmental injury, illness and disability, and promotion of health and productivity of workers, their families, and communities.