July 25th, 2014 | Sterling

Weeding Out Drivers on the High Road

Weeding Out Drivers on the High Road | SterlingBackcheck

With Maryland, Minnesota, and New York sanctioning marijuana for medical use earlier this year, there are now 23 states that have decriminalized medical use of marijuana, as well as the District of Columbia. Two of these states (Colorado and Washington) have also decriminalized recreational use of marijuana.

As marijuana continues to march towards the mainstream, there is growing concern about the consequences of its use. A recent article published by USA Today centered on marijuana’s likely involvement in traffic deaths. The article also cited two recent studies conducted by NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and Columbia University. 

According to another recent article published by ScienceDaily citing a study conducted by the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Colorado has seen a significant increase in traffic deaths involving marijuana use since marijuana dispensaries were legalized in Colorado in 2009.

DUIM:  Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana

The Columbia University study examined statistics from six states that routinely test drivers involved in fatal car accidents. These statistics, involving more than 23,500 drivers who died within one hour of a traffic accident between 1999 and 2010, showed an increase in marijuana use across all age groups and both genders during this period. In fact, marijuana use was found to be a contributing factor in 12% of traffic deaths in 2010, compared with 4% a decade earlier in 1999.

An article published earlier this year by HealthDay (and republished by WebMD), cited the Columbia University study:

“Marijuana impairs driving in much the same way that alcohol does,” explained Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. “It impairs judgment, affects vision and makes a person more distractible and more likely to take risks while driving.”

Results from the Columbia University study also identified that:

  1. Traffic deaths linked to alcohol use (the most widely abused substance) remained relatively unchanged (40%) over the same period beginning in 1999.
  2. Drug use accounted for more than 28% of traffic deaths in 2010, compared with 16% in 1999, with marijuana being the main substance involved in the increase.
  3. Based on current trends, involvement of non-alcohol drugs in traffic deaths related to impairment will likely overtake alcohol by 2020.
  4. The risk of a fatal car accident involving a driver impaired by alcohol use is 13 times higher than the risk of a driver who is not impaired.  The risk, however, increases to 24 times if the driver is under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana.

The below quote is from Dr. Guohua Li, Director, Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia University:

“Given the ongoing epidemic of drug-impaired driving and the increased permissibility and accessibility of marijuana for medical use in the U.S., it is urgent that we better understand the role of marijuana in causing car accidents.”

What’s the Impact to Employers?

The recent “decriminalization wave” concerning marijuana at the state level will likely continue. Though federal regulations continue to prohibit marijuana use in the workplace, it may not be long before marijuana use is decriminalized for medical purposes across all states and territories (and perhaps for recreational use as well). 

American employers, therefore, must be mindful that decriminalized marijuana can have a similarly negative impact on their workforce and organization as use of other substances can.  Just as with prescribed medication (stimulants, tranquilizers, pain killers, etc.), illicit substances (heroin, ecstasy, etc.), and alcohol (also a decriminalized substance), marijuana can impair the user, cause accidents, and lower employee productivity. This is becoming increasingly more relevant when one considers that today’s marijuana may be even more potent than it once was. 

Consequently, a sound and comprehensive pre-employment and post-hire workplace drug testing policy and program are critical in order for employers to effectively identify illicit use, as well as legal use that could compromise workplace and public safety.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.