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Occupational health concerns of cannabis use


Occupational health concerns are becoming increasingly important as cannabis becomes legal in more areas of the US.[citation needed] Of note, employers have concerns of workers either coming to work acutely impaired or recent use of cannabis still being detected in the body. Employment issues such as ADA law as it relates to accommodations for cannabis, paying unemployment benefits or paying out workers compensation benefits and disability claims are all important issues. While federal law still prohbitis use, employers in different states have taken different stances based on whether they are federal contractors, perform safety sensitive work or whether the cannabis use is acutely impairing the employee.

Cannabis is currently the most commonly used illicit drug in the world and one of the earliest plants cultivated by humans. Early evidence of cannabis use in medicine has been found in China and India for religious and medicinal uses. Archaeological research shows early civilization cultivation of hemp in India to create a variety of products from ropes, textiles and paper. In countries, such as Nepal and China, cannabis seeds are still used today both as a pharmaceutical as well as a food enhancer.[1]

As cannabis use increases and more states legalize use in the US, there are concerns surrounding the use of cannabis and its effects on job performance and safety. There are also concerns that the concentration of THC have increased over the past 50 years, thereby increasing the effects of the drug.[2]

The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 currently lists cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, deeming it to be a substance with high risk of dependence, abuse and no (supervised) medical uses.

The CATO institute estimates that legalizing drugs would save $41 billion per year along with $46.7 billion in revenue, if taxed at the same rates as alcohol and tobacco.[3]

Employers and employees have faced new challenges in the workplace with the increasing legislation of cannabis. State law can have provisions, for an employer to refuse to hire based on marijuana use, under the concern of safety, productivity and company reputation. Companies that have “safety sensitive work” or include operating machinery or large vehicles are also free to institute a zero-tolerance policy for its employees. For the approximate 10 million CDL (Commercial Drivers Licenses) drivers in the USA, federal law requires they pass employer drug tests under the Omnibus Transportation Employee Safety Act of 1991.

Individual states in response to the federal government differed in how they dealt with cannabis. California was the first state to pass medical marijuana in 1996, followed by 23 other states currently permitting the use of medical marijuana.

Contents

Cannabis issues related to public and private employersEdit

In the case of U.S. v. Stacey among several others, the legality of cannabis use has been contested since citizens who argue for protection under state law, are always subject to federal charges[4] While there has been some guidance from the Department of Justice to the DEA to reassess its priorities in the drug war and to target larger threats and substances, the interpretation is still subjective and has not prevented large scale raids on medical marijuana facilities across the country.[2]

State response to cannabisEdit

California was the first state to pass medical marijuana in 1996, followed by 23 other states currently permitting the use of medical marijuana [5] For the states that have legalized medical marijuana, employees and employers have had to face new challenges in the workplace. State law can have provisions, for an employer to refuse to hire based on marijuana use, under the concern of safety, productivity and company reputation. Companies that have a lot of “safety sensitive work” or include operating machinery or large vehicles are also free to institute a zero-tolerance policy for its employees. For the approximate 10 million CDL (Commercial Drivers Licenses) drivers in the USA, federal law requires they pass employer drug tests under the Omnibus Transportation Employee Safety Act of 1991.

Drivers that use cannabis show impairment both in simulator and on the road tests, mainly on the abilities to “..concentrate and maintain attention, estimate time and distance, and demonstrate coordination on divided attention tasks—all important requirements for operating a motor vehicle”[2]

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has also stated in its Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulations that cannabis is not acceptable for any employee engaged in safety sensitive work.Currently, there are federal laws that give employers guidance and protection on how to ensure a drug free workplace despite the increase in cannabis use. According to the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), in Colorado the number of positive drug tests for marijuana went up by 20% between 2012-2013, compared to the national average increase of 5%[6]

For those companies that have received federal grants and have federal contracts over $100,000, they follow The Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988, a comprehensive policy, which includes drug prevention methods, information about employee assistance programs and disciplinary consequences of drug use in the workplace [7] Federal agencies are required to use the Substance Abuse and Mental health Services Administration (SAMHSA) procedures for testing and recommend private employers use the same criteria for consistency [8]

The policy requires employees to report any criminal drug violations in the workplace to the employer within 5 calendar days which may subsequently result in discipline including termination, regardless of state law [9]

Cannabis related to ADA issuesEdit

The Occupational and Safety Act of 1970 includes a general duty clause for employers to protect employees from exposure for those compounds with no regulated standards of safe exposure. It has been defined broadly as to “maintain conditions or adopt practices reasonably necessary and appropriate to protect workers on the job.[10] The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against disabled individuals, which is defined as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.”

Employers under this law have an obligation to provide “reasonable accommodations” to the disabled employee, so they may perform the essential duties of the job, as long as those accommodations don’t pose an undue hardship on the employer".[11] The ADA section 12114(a) however states that these rights are not granted to employee or applicant who is currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs [11] The ADA does not require employer coverage when the employee is engaging in the “illegal use of drugs”, including marijuana which is still illegal under the Controlled Substance Act

Wrongful termination for cannabisEdit

Coats v. Dish Network LLC, held that a “state’s lawful activities statute does not protect a worker’s off-duty use of medical marijuana because this activity is not lawful under federal law” under the ordinary meaning of “permitted by law” [12]

Workers compensation benefitsEdit

The Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA) provides for the payment of workers’ compensation benefits, including wages and medical benefits, to civilian officers and employees of all branches of the federal government, whereas state law has oversight over its own workers’ compensation program

FECA prohibits employees from receiving compensation when the injury “was proximately… caused by the intoxication by… illegal drugs” [13][14]

Unemployment benefitsEdit

Colorado Court of Appeals in Beinor v Industrial Claim Appeals[15]

Agreed with the employer and held that unemployment insurance benefits could be withheld due to the violation of the employer’s zero tolerance drug policy. Worker was a sweeper using cannabis legally outside of working hours

Colorado State statue “disqualifies an individual from receiving unemployment benefits after the presence of a controlled substance was not medically prescribed was found in the worker’s system during worker hours.”

Drug testing in the workplaceEdit

Cannabis has unique pharmacokinetics and metabolism which makes it a challenge to drug test for acute impairment vs recent use. THC is deposited in fat and can be detectable in urine for up to a month or more. However, it is not always an indicator of acute impairment. Further there are privacy concerns, from invasive blood testing for compounds, under the 4th Amendment of the US constitution. Variability in study designs, ethical dilemma of safety and productivity, work type and drug metabolism in users. When smoked, blood levels of THC immediately rise and are distributed primarily in the lungs and brain. •THC is metabolized to the transient psychoactive substance THC-OH, which is finally converted to THC-COOH, the physiologically inactive metabolite

The immediate euphoria and subsequent impairment from THC-OH, as suggested by older studies may last about 6 hours, with some limited studies showing impairment lasting as long as 24 to 48 hours[16] Specific studies that assess driving and impairment show a return to "...nonimpaired state within 3-6 hours“[2]

Quickly sequestered into fat tissues therefore decreasing blood concentration

Ingesting cannabis has much longer magnified effect of the drug

The method of testing cannabis in urine can be misleading, due to the potential for interpreting a positive result for THC-COOH, as an indicator of acute impairment.

Lack of concentration, impaired learning and memory, alterations in thought formation, expression and sedation. Physiological signs include tachycardia, dilated pupils with injected conjunctiva, dry mouth and increased appetite Studies have also confirmed that impairment is related on a dose response relationship.

Challenges for healthcare providersEdit

FSMB (Federal State Medical Boards) after reviewing over 50 major studies in the field, have offered these 10 recommendations[17]

1)Thoroughly document patient’s visit prior to considering cannabis use for those with good compliance Inadequacy of response to other treatment, comprehensive history and physical

2) Don’t treat close friends or family

3) Inform risks and benefits

4) Compliance Contract, concerns of diversion

5) Regular Visits

6) No relationships with dispensaries or cannabis companies

Measuring impairment for workersEdit

A large study in France of over 10,000 crashes, concluded an odds ratio of 2.18 for THC level less than 1 ng/ml up to 4.72 for THC 5 ng/ml for being involved in a crash [18]

Some researchers such as Donzé N, Ménétrey have considered categorizing impairment as the sum of THC, THC-OH and THC-COOH, which would be more accurate for assessing impairment since it would include the active metabolite; however, more research is needed along with better point of care detection

Some Norwegian studies have suggested that individuals with levels of 2-5 ng/mL experienced “moderate established impairment” and levels of THC above 5 -10 ng/ml was likely to be severe impairment.[18]

The consensus from a meta-analysis study shows that serum levels of an average of 3.8 (ranging from 3.1 to 4.5) for oral cannabis and an average of 3.8 (ranging from 3.3 to 4.5) for smoker cannabis cause a similar impairment to a BAC of around 0.05g/dL, i.e. a 5 ng/mL cutoff would resemble the level of impairment allowed for alcohol under federal testing laws[19]

However, since the presence of metabolites does not automatically indicate impairment, an immediate physical exam by a physician is advised to correlate findings clinically to diagnose impairment [19]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Zuardi, Antonio Waldo (2006). History of cannabis as a medicine: A review. pp. 153–7.
  2. ^ a b c d Phillips, Jennan (2015). "Marijuana in the workplace: Guidance for occupational health professionals and employers: Joint guidance statement of the american association of occupational health nurses and the american college of occupational and environmental medicine". Workplace Health and Safety: 139.
  3. ^ [The budgetary impact of ending drug prohibition, Miron and Waldock, Cato Institute 2010 https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/DrugProhibitionWP.pdf "The budgetary impact of ending drug prohibition"] Check |url= value (help) (PDF).
  4. ^ [Houser, Kimberly A., and Robert E. Rosacker. 2014. High times: A history of marijuana laws in the united states. International Journal of Business and Public Administration (IJBPA) 11 (2): 131. Houser, Kimberly A., and Robert E. Rosacker. 2014. High times: A history of marijuana laws in the united states. International Journal of Business and Public Administration (IJBPA) 11 (2): 131.] Check |url= value (help). Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ [Introduction - NORML. Marijuana Law Reform - NORML. N.p., n.d. Web http://norml.org/laws Introduction - NORML. Marijuana Law Reform - NORML. N.p., n.d. Web http://norml.org/laws] Check |url= value (help). Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ Francesca Liquori, "The Effects of Marijuana Legalization on Employment Law," National Attorney's General Training and Research Institute Journal 1, no. 2 (February/March, 2016): , http://www.naag.org/publications/nagtri-journal/volume-1-number-2/the-effects-of-marijuana-legalization-on-employment-law.php. External link in |title= (help)
  7. ^ [US Department of Labor, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy. Drug-Free Workplace Policy Builder Section 7: Drug Testing. DOL elaws—Drug-Free Workplace Advisor. www.dol.gov/ elaws/asp/drugfree/drugs/screen92.asp US Department of Labor, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy. Drug-Free Workplace Policy Builder Section 7: Drug Testing. DOL elaws—Drug-Free Workplace Advisor. www.dol.gov/ elaws/asp/drugfree/drugs/screen92.asp] Check |url= value (help). Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ Houser, High times: A history of marijuana laws in the united states.
  9. ^ Costello, Bob. "Truck Driver Shortage Analysis.".
  10. ^ "US Department of Labor. Occupational Health and Safety Administration. OSH Act of 1970. Sec. 5. Duties". osha.gov. table OSHACT.
  11. ^ a b "What Is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?" ADA National Network. Accessed November 2016". adata.org.
  12. ^ "Coats v. Dish Network, Llc., 13 SC 394 No. (Colo. Jun 15, 2015)".
  13. ^ "Moore v. Sullbark Builders Moore v. Sullbark Builders, Inc., 680 S.E.2d 732 (N.C. Ct. App. 2009".
  14. ^ "Noll vs. LePage Bakeries Noll v. Lepage Bakeries, Inc., Me. W.C.B. No. 16-25, (App. Div. 2016)".
  15. ^ "Beinor v. Indus. Claim Appeals Office, 262 P.3d 970 (Colo. App. 2011)".
  16. ^ "J. A. Phillips et al., "Marijuana in the Workplace" 461".
  17. ^ "Chaudhry HJ, Hengerer AS, Snyder GB. Medical Board Expectations for Physicians Recommending Marijuana. JAMA. 2016;316(6):577-578. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.7741".
  18. ^ a b Ménétrey, Annick; Augsburger, Marc; Favrat, Bernard; Pin, Marie A.; Rothuizen, Laura E.; Appenzeller, Monique; Buclin, Thierry; Mangin, Patrice; Giroud, Christian (2005-07-01). "Assessment of Driving Capability Through the Use of Clinical and Psychomotor Tests in Relation to Blood Cannabinoids Levels Following Oral Administration of 20 mg Dronabinol or of a Cannabis Decoction Made with 20 or 60 mg Δ9-THC*". Journal of Analytical Toxicology. 29 (5): 327–338. doi:10.1093/jat/29.5.327. ISSN 0146-4760.
  19. ^ a b "Concentration of drugs in blood of suspected impaired drivers Augsburger, Marc et al. Khiabani HZ, Bramness JG, Bjørneboe A, Mørland J. Relationship between THC concentration in blood and impairment in apprehended drivers". Traffic Inj Prev.: 2006, 7:111– 116.