Study: Medical Cannabis Legalization Associated with Lower Rates of Workplace Deaths

Five years after medical marijuana laws came into effect, workplace deaths declined over one-third.

A new study published in The International Journal of Drug Policy indicates that workplace fatalities drop significantly after medical marijuana is legalized.

Researchers from Montana State University, Colorado State University, and American University in Washington, D.C. used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to assess the relationship between the enactment of medical marijuana laws and workplace safety between 1992 and 2015. They found medical marijuana programs to be associated with year-over-year declines in fatal workplace accidents.

“Legalizing medical marijuana was associated with a 19.5 percent reduction in the expected number of workplace fatalities among workers aged 25-44,” the researchers reported in the study.

“The association between legalizing medical marijuana and workplace fatalities among workers aged 25-44 grew stronger over time. Five years after coming into effect, MMLs [medical marijuana laws] were associated with a 33.7 percent reduction in the expected number of workplace fatalities.”

The researchers note that the results may be surprising to some who assume that legalizing cannabis would put more workers at risk for accidents due to the “short-term effects of marijuana use on psychomotor performance and cognition.”

While the researchers did not provide an answer for why legalizing medical marijuana would be correlated with such a sharp decrease in workplace fatalities, they did suggest that it might be related to workers using cannabis in substitute for more intoxicating substances. In particular, it could be related to a trend of people using medical marijuana in place of alcohol and prescription painkillers.

“Medical marijuana laws that listed pain as a qualifying condition or allowed collective cultivation were associated with larger reductions in fatalities among workers aged 25-44 than those that did not,” the researchers wrote.

They researchers concluded: “Our results suggest that legalizing medical marijuana leads to a reduction in workplace fatalities among workers aged 25–44. This reduction may be the result of workers substituting marijuana in place of alcohol and other substances that can impair cognitive function and motor skills.”

Full text of the study, “Medical marijuana laws and workplace fatalities in the United States,” is available to access online ahead of print through The International Journal of Drug Policy.

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Access to Medical Cannabis

To date, 30 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Separate studies have shown that legalizing medical cannabis is associated with lower rates of opioid consumption and alcohol drinking.

While many companies have policies in place prohibiting cannabis with the intent of reducing accidents caused by intoxication, this new study may help provide a scientific basis for protecting the rights of state-legal medical cannabis patients.

Having access to cannabis, workers suffering from chronic pain may be less likely to drink alcohol or consume meds like opioids that can more severely impair motor skills and cognitive function. Over recent years, there’s been growing momentum in the effort to acknowledge cannabis as a safe and effective alternative to opioids.

More on the Benefits of Medical Cannabis

You can learn more about medical marijuana, including how it be an alternative to prescription medications and where it’s legal in the U.S., by visiting our education page.

Keep up with the latest cannabis-related studies through our news page.