People can now buy marijuana for medical use in 29 states and the District of Columbia, and eight states have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Should employers be worried about safety hazards of marijuana use both on and off the job?
A survey released by the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) Thursday may help inform employers in Colorado about marijuana use in their industry.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) analyzed data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) — a phone survey about health habits in general — and published a breakdown of marijuana use by industry and job.
Of the more than 10,000 workers surveyed, 14.6 percent answered yes to the question, “Did you use marijuana or hashish in the last 30 days?” They were not asked whether they used marijuana while on the job. Not surprisingly, use was more common in males and among young people, with nearly 30 percent of those in the 18- to 25-year-old age group reporting at least one use in 30 days.
Which profession smokes the most pot?
In the “accommodation and food services” industry, 30 percent of workers reported smoking pot at least once in the past month. Those in the job category “food preparation and serving” had the highest use at 32 percent of workers.
What other professions have a high proportion of marijuana users?
“Arts, design, entertainment, sports and media” came in second at 28 percent.
Marijuana use was reported by 19 to 21 percent of workers in “production,” “life, physical, and social science,” “sales and related,” and “installation, maintenance, and repair.”
What about people in high risk jobs?
While the study doesn’t reveal if anyone actually got high on the job, the researchers did take a special look at industries in “safety-sensitive occupations” in which workers are responsible for their own safety or the safety of others.
Those in construction, manufacturing, and agriculture industries all fell above the state average in percentage of workers reporting marijuana use. Notably, healthcare, utilities, or mining, oil, and gas all had less than 10 percent of their workers report marijuana use.
All three of these low-use industries are also those known to perform drug testing on employees.
The impact of marijuana use on job safety
This survey raises as many questions as it answers. The first and obvious, question: How many of these individuals have routinely or ever been under the influence of marijuana on the job? Similarly, just how frequently are they using?
We don’t have the answers. In the overall BRFSS population, employed and unemployed, just under half of the “within the month” marijuana users reported daily or near daily use. Of the remaining users, just about one-fourth of the population report using weekly, and the remaining one-fourth used only one to three times per month.
Since just over half of the total survey group was employed, it’s impossible to say how many of the daily users are in the workforce. Another drawback to the survey, adults who had been employed within the past year — even if they were not working at the time of the survey — were included. It’s possible, then, that the time they were using pot and the time they were working in the reported profession had no overlap.
There’s very limited evidence to suggest that marijuana use increases the risk of the workplace injury. However, there’s certainly potential for problems if daily marijuana use is coupled with full-time work, particularly in safety-sensitive industries.
“The country is gradually becoming legalized with marijuana. We have highly anxious people,” said Dr. Scott Krakower, a doctor of osteopathic medicine and assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, New York, with an interest in drug use and abuse. “I think that is going to lead to increased marijuana use in a lot of industries. I don’t know if we’re 100 percent prepared for that.”
By: Dr. Kelly Arps, ABC News