The United States appears to be well on its way to decriminalizing marijuana. Proponents of this movement assert that the effects of marijuana are no worse than alcohol and that, in fact, marijuana is less addictive and causes less impairment in users than alcohol. Lawmakers are beginning to agree with this and almost half of all states have legalized marijuana for medical use. Four states—Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington—have even legalized marijuana for recreational use. While Kansas and Missouri are not yet among these states, looser marijuana laws in neighboring states can affect rates of drug use among workers here.
Marijuana Use Is On the Rise
Nationwide, the use of marijuana more than doubled between 2001 and 2013, according to a survey from the National Institutes of Health, and nearly 10 percent of Americans now reports having used marijuana in the last year. Researchers believe that renewed social acceptance of marijuana is linked to increased acceptance of the drug for medicinal use and the lowering of penalties for use and possession by many states. This increased acceptance and use of marijuana comes at a time when the drug is at its most potent. In the 1970s, another time of increased marijuana use, the drug contained a THC content of about 1 percent. Today’s products contain about 13 percent and some strains are advertised as having 25 percent or more. THC is marijuana’s active ingredient.
How Marijuana Use Affects Workers
In many occupations, workers who are impaired by marijuana use can endanger not only themselves, but the workers around them. Marijuana use has been linked to an increase in accidents and injuries on the job, particularly among workers in manufacturing, construction, warehouses, and transportation. The following well-known effects of marijuana use all contribute to an increase in risk to workers using the drug on the job:
- Short-term memory problems
- Impaired thinking
- Loss of balance and coordination
- Decreased concentration
- Changes in sensory perception
- Impaired ability to perform complex tasks
- Decreased alertness
- Decreased reaction time
The effects of marijuana can last from two to six hours, so someone who took the drug well before his shift began could still be feeling the effects and putting his co-workers at risk. Employers also report decreased productivity, poor attendance, and lower morale among workers who use marijuana.
Marijuana and the Law
Even in states where medicinal or recreational use of marijuana is legal, employers have the right to ban the use of the substance in their workplace. Like alcohol use, if the employer believes workers under the influence will pose a risk to themselves and others, they are within their rights to monitor employees for its use. Traces of marijuana can be found in a user’s urine for anywhere from one to five days for an occasional user and up to six weeks for a habitual user. Random drug testing often identifies users and employers, depending on their workplace policies, may use these tests to terminate employment.
Marijuana possession and use are currently illegal for any purpose in both Kansas and Missouri, but Missouri appears to be poised to pass a medical marijuana law in the coming year. Missouri has also passed legislation that will lessen penalties for those found to be in possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana beginning in 2017. In Kansas, however, possession of even a single gram of the drug can lead to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The Kansas senate will consider a limited medical marijuana bill in the next legislative session that will allow low-THC cannabis for the treatment of seriously ill Kansans with specific medical conditions.
Have You Been Injured On The Job?
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