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Editorial: Driver’s education for legal pot users?

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A recent study showing a correlation between marijuana use and traffic accidents may be seen by many as confirming the obvious, but wider implications and how employers should react are not so clear.

Last month, the Highway Loss Data Institute issued an analysis of collision claims data for states that have legalized recreational marijuana and a control group of states that have not, including the data from the marijuana states before they legalized pot. The study showed that claims frequency in Colorado, Oregon and Washington — the states that first legalized recreational marijuana — saw a 3% higher rate of collision claims than the control states. Marijuana advocates immediately questioned the findings, but perhaps the most surprising thing about the study is that it showed only a 3% difference. But a difference of that magnitude is still significant and raises the wider issue of how employers should respond to the potential for increased marijuana use by workers — whether they are feeling the effects behind the wheel or in the workplace.

Given the change in public acceptance of marijuana use over the past several years, it would be difficult to try and address the problem by seeking to roll back legalization. Trying to cut marijuana-related accidents by banning weed would at this point be as futile as trying to eradicate drunk driving by bringing back Prohibition.

But the issue can’t be ignored. Employers are reportedly finding it harder and harder to fill positions when a pre-employment drug test is required, and Quest Diagnostics reported in May that the rate of positive drug tests among workers was 4.2% last year, a relative increase of 5% over the 4% rate in 2015, and that the rates of positive testing for marijuana in states that legalized pot were, as you would expect, significantly higher than other states.

There’s no easy answer for employers trying to react to the increase in marijuana use. Policies mandating drugand alcohol-free workplaces should be enforced, but such policies get more complicated in states that have laws protecting employees’ off-duty conduct.

Perhaps the only long-term solution is education efforts that make employees more aware of how drug use can impair judgment and motor skills, combined with strict enforcement of disciplinary procedures when drug use is found to have caused an accident. Just accepting higher accident rates is clearly not an option.