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Study Says Cannabis Does Not Impact Work Performance

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Throughout the U.S. and worldwide, laws regarding the purchase, sale, and use of cannabis have loosened, with many states choosing to decriminalize cannabis use both for recreational and medical users. As general use and availability increase, many have raised concerns regarding the impact cannabis use could have on job performance.


Researchers from the University of British Columbia and the University of Northern British Columbia published a study reviewing workplace injury risk related to cannabis use. General curiosity and concerns regarding whether employee use of cannabis could create a less safe workplace prompted the investigation. The group assessed data from 16 studies conducted in the EU, Americas, and Australia, looking for workplace injuries preceded by cannabis use.

A group from San Diego State University and Auburn University Alabama surveyed 281 employees to learn how after-work cannabis use might affect job performance. Each employee was surveyed along with their immediate supervisor. Researchers conducting this study set out to determine whether long-held assumptions regarding cannabis use were warranted. Their goal was to add legitimate data-based evidence to the conversation of cannabis in the workplace. Wherein there is a concerning lack of research.


Based on both studies’ findings, there was no significant evidence suggesting that cannabis use before or after work hours increased the risk of workplace injury or impairment.

Of the 16 studies reviewed by Biasutti, Leffers, and Callaghan from the Universities of British Columbia and Northern British Columbia, seven contained claims supporting positive cannabis and workplace injury associations. Of these seven, none assessed cannabis-related impairment. Only three included clear evidence that cannabis had been used prior to a workplace-injury.

Bernerth and Walker, who headed the research from San Diego State and Auburn University Alabama, reported that some evidence pointed to cannabis use before work reducing productivity. However, the common assumption that cannabis harms performance is unfounded and not backed by sufficient research or data.

“Cannabis use among the general public has exploded over the past decade, yet there is virtually no empirical evidence within the organizational sciences exploring the performance-related implications of cannabis use for more than two decades. This is clearly problematic as our knowledge and understanding of the workplace has advanced at the same time the types and uses of cannabis have evolved.”

Bernerth & Walker – Altered States or Much To Do About Nothing?

Drug Testing

Many employers have continued to administer drug tests that include cannabinoid detection for incoming and current employees. Even though nothing suggests that cannabis use could prevent individuals from performing their work to their fullest ability, many employers will continue to drug test. Laws regarding employee drug tests vary by state. But do not assume you are in the clear just because your state has legalized recreational cannabis use. Despite all 50 states having unique laws regarding cannabis, some have decriminalized it, marijuana use, sale, and possession is still illegal at the federal level. This means that applicants to any federally funded positions are expected to refrain from using the substance.

States like Alaska, California, and Maine, despite having already legalized both medical and recreational cannabis use, still allow employers to administer cannabis tests and deny employment based on a positive test.

“Suspicionless marijuana testing never has been an evidence-based policy. Rather, these discriminatory practices are a holdover from the zeitgeist of the 1980s ‘war on drugs.’ But times have changed; attitudes have changed, and in many places, the marijuana laws have changed. It is time for workplace policies to adapt to this new reality.” [1]

Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of NORML

In most states, applying to positions in the public sector can almost guarantee you a drug test. In some, even private small-business owners have the right to request a test. For positions where impairment could cause a risk to public safety – i.e., aviation, construction, transportation – there is often a zero-tolerance policy.

Around 35% of hiring managers report performing marijuana testing. However, many have changed their policies from pre-employment screening to suspicion-based screening. Of these companies, few have a zero-tolerance policy regarding marijuana use outside of working hours, but almost all considered cannabis use during working hours a firable offense.

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