Study Finds Workplace Fatalities Dropped in States With Medical Marijuana

Researchers suggest that workplaces are getting safer because workers are using cannabis instead of alcohol and opioids.
Study Finds Workplace Fatalities Dropped in States With Medical Marijuana

In states with legal medical cannabis programs in place, workplace safety continues to be a paramount concern. The multifaceted issue impacts employees, of course, but also their employers. In many states, workplaces continue to sanction employees who use medical marijuana legally. There also doesn’t seem to be much clarity on the question of workers compensation claims for medical cannabis patients, or whether insurance companies can claim cannabis as a cause of a workplace injury or death.

But how does medical cannabis legalization actually impact workplace safety? Do medical marijuana patients really pose a hazard to themselves and co-workers? A brand new study published in Drug Policy says no.

A new study in The International Journal of Drug Policy investigates the relationship between states with medical marijuana programs and workplace fatalities. Using Bureau of Labor Statistics data from all 50 U.S. states between 1992 and 2015, the study hones in on workers in two age groups.

For workers aged 25-44, researchers associated legal medical marijuana with a 19.5 percent reduction in the expected number of workplace deaths. For younger workers 16-24, researchers also found a reduction. But for that group, the reduction in fatalities was not statistically significant. The data means, however, that legalizing medical cannabis didn’t lead to an increase in workplace fatalities.

Far from it. The study found that the association between legal medical marijuana and a decline in workplace fatalities grew stronger over time. Programs active for five years, for example, saw a 33.7 percent reduction in the expected number of deaths.

In short, medical marijuana didn’t have a negligible effect on workplace safety. It actually made workplaces safer.

Is Medical Marijuana Making It Safer To Go To Work?

The safest workplaces, measured by a reduction in workplace deaths, were those in states with medical cannabis laws that list pain as a qualifying condition and that allow personal cultivation. In other words, states that don’t list pain, or don’t allow patients to grow their own cannabis, saw lower reductions.

And there is a link, researchers suggest, between increased workplace safety and medical cannabis. Studies have shown that THC has definite short-term effects on psychomotor performance and cognition. It stands to reason that these effects would contribute to more workplace accidents, not less.

But the study doesn’t mention anything about CBD or cannabidiol. Many medical cannabis patients use CBD products not only because it’s the most appropriate for their symptoms, but because CBD doesn’t produce the psychoactive effects THC does. So patients who use medical cannabis with cannabidiol may not be high at work. And therefore, there’s no observable increase in accidents associated with them.

The authors of the Drug Policy study, however, have a different hypothesis. They point to previous studies that have documented how legal medical marijuana leads to substantial reductions in the consumption of alcohol, opioids, and other substances. If workers are using less of those substances, which definitely cause significant motor and cognitive impairment, it makes sense that workplaces are getting less deadly. The study’s authors are calling for further investigation into precisely that phenomenon.

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