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In fits and starts, marijuana is moving toward legalization. Federally, cannabis is still considered a Schedule 1 drug, but 46 states have medical cannabis laws, 23 have decriminalized it, and 10 have legalized it for recreational use. Earlier this year, the FDA held a public hearing on cannabis, and it would be surprising if we didn’t see federal movement soon.

A lot of the public discussion in the food industry has been about incorporating CBD into food and beverage products. But, manufacturers continue to struggle with hiring and retaining workers, and the impact of employee cannabis use is a hot topic. Finding “someone that can pass a drug test” was identified as a challenge in Food Engineering’s 2019 State of Food Manufacturing report, and at least one event at PROCESS EXPO earlier this month featured a Q&A on workforce cannabis issues.

The challenge for employers is that, unlike for alcohol, there is no reliable test of cannabis impairment. THC can be detectable in the body for months or longer after use, and the amount of detectable THC is not directly correlated with impairment. In states where cannabis is legal, this makes the issue a difficult one for employers because it may be unlawful for employers to even test for THC in a pre-employment drug test.

To inform public policy on this issue, the National Safety Council (NSC) this week released a policy statement on cannabis impairment in safety-sensitive positions. This follows a similar statement by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine on the implications legalizing marijuana will have for workplace safety.

A safety-sensitive position is any job where the employee’s tasks that could affect the safety of themselves or others. Arguably, most jobs in a food manufacturing plant could fit under this definition.

The NCS’s position is this:

NSC believes it is unsafe to be under the influence of cannabis while working in a safety-sensitive position due to the increased risk of injury or death to the operator and others. Research is clear that cannabis impacts psychomotor skills and cognitive ability. However, the amount of THC detectable in the body does not directly correlate to a degree of impairment. At this time, NSC believes there is no level of cannabis use that is safe or acceptable for employees who work in safety-sensitive positions.

The organization cites data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse showing that, compared to those who tested negative, employees testing positive for cannabis had:

  • 55% more industrial incidents
  • 85% more injuries
  • 75% greater absenteeism

Several states where marijuana is legal have already adopted “safety-sensitive carve outs,” which give employers the right to administer drug tests for employees in safety-sensitive positions as well as take action after a positive test result. Safety and compliance services provider DISA Global Solutions provides a comprehensive state-by-state roundup of the current laws.

As things are still up in the air, the best food manufacturers can do right now, especially in states where marijuana is legal, is to be informed. Here are a couple of websites that track marijuana legislation nationwide:

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