Does Medical Marijuana Make Workplaces Safer?

By Paul Gaita 08/17/18

A new study examined workplace fatality statistics in states with medical marijuana programs.

Man suffering back ache while moving boxes

As legalized medical and/or recreational marijuana becomes a reality in the United States and abroad with each passing month, the question of safety in the workplace has become a topic of discussion among businesses and the legal community.

A new study has directly addressed this issue by examining workplace fatality statistics in states with medical marijuana programs. What researchers found was that among certain demographic groups in states with such programs, there was a decline in the number of such incidents—a number that continued to decrease over a period of five years.

The study, conducted by researchers from Montana State University, the University of Colorado Denver and American University, and published in the October 2018 edition of International Journal of Drug Policy culled workplace fatality data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia from the years 1992 to 2015.

The data was obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and adjusted for state demographics, unemployment rate and other factors. For the purposes of the study, the researchers looked at workers in two demographics—individuals between the ages of 16 and 24 and those between 25 and 44.

As High Times noted, the study found evidence that in states with a legal medical marijuana program, incidents of workplace fatalities in the second age group (25-44) dropped by 19.5%.

Workers between the ages of 16-24 in those states also saw a reduction, though as the researchers noted, this number was "not statistically significant at conventional levels." 

Additionally, the study authors found that states that had an active medical marijuana program for a period of five years saw a 33.7% reduction in the number of expected workplace fatalities.

And those states that included pain as a qualifying condition to participate in their program were associated with a higher reduction in workplace fatalities among workers 25-44 than those states that did not have a program for a similar length of time.

High Times pointed to two areas where further studies would benefit the argument for medical marijuana abetting workplace safety. The study does not mention any use of cannabidiol (CBD), which does not produce the euphoric, psychoactive effects of THC.

Patients who use medical cannabis with cannabidiol have technically used a medical marijuana product but are not "high at work," as the Times noted; as such, there is no means of measuring their impact on workplace fatalities.

The study authors also cite the need for further research into studies which have suggested that states with medical marijuana programs have seen decreased use in alcohol, opioids and other substances that can cause physical or cognitive impairment which, in turn, can increase instances of workplace fatalities. But for advocates of legalized marijuana use, the study can be seen as adding to the argument for its safety in workplace scenarios.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.