Employers who are struggling to understand how the evolving cannabis legalization landscape will impact their workplaces are getting some guidance from the National Safety Council (NSC).

Regardless of whether cannabis consumption is allowed by their state, the NSC says employers should prohibit cannabis use for those in safety sensitive positions.

In a policy position released yesterday, the NSC defines safety sensitive positions as those that impact the safety of the employee and the safety of others as a result of performing that job.

The impairing effects of cannabis

“Research clearly shows that cannabis impacts a person’s psychomotor skills and cognitive ability,” said Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “In order to protect our employees and those around them, we need to acknowledge the impairing effects of cannabis. We urge employers to implement policies stating no amount of cannabis consumption is acceptable for those who work in safety sensitive positions.”

In a 2019 NSC survey, employers expressed the following about cannabis:

  • 81% were concerned about the drug having a negative impact on their workforce
  • 71% indicated their organization’s written policies cover employee use of illicit cannabis, while only 54% said their policies cover employee use of legal or prescribed cannabis
  • 24% indicated they would dismiss an employee found to be misusing legal cannabis, such as being under the influence while on the job, while only 7% said they would relocate the employee to a position of lesser responsibility

Studies have shown that those under the influence of cannabis can experience impaired body movement, altered senses, difficulty with thinking and problem-solving, impaired memory, an altered sense of time, changes in mood, and – when taken in high doses – hallucinations and delusions. Physical effects can include difficulty breathing and increased heart rate . These effects can lead to deadly consequences for those working in safety sensitive positions and those around them. NSC supports moving employees to non-safety sensitive operational positions when using cannabis for medical purposes.

The drug most detected

Marijuana is the most frequently used illicit drug of abuse in the U.S. and the drug most often detected in workplace drug testing. Although cannabis remains federally illegal under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I drug, NSC calls for an increase in cannabis research to discover a way to detect cannabis impairment and gain a better understanding of the effects the drug has on the human mind and body.

The new NSC policy position can be found here. More information about addressing cannabis in the workplace can be found here.