NEW YORK OCCUPATIONAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL MEDICAL ASSOCIATION Letter to New York State Health Commissioner Opposing Recreational Marijuana

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On behalf of The New York Occupational and Environmental Medical Association (NYOEMA), our Board of Directors strongly opposes the legalization of recreational marijuana. As the New York chapter of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), the pre–eminent physician–led organization that champions the health of workers, safety of workplaces, and quality of environments, we believe that widespread availability of non–medical, legal marijuana will have deleterious effects both in the workplace and to the general public.

Marijuana was recognized as a danger in the workplace in a series of fatal incidents including the 1981 crash aboard the USS Nimitz, where 6 of 14 killed had used marijuana, and the 1987 Maryland train collision killing 16 people where marijuana use by two crewmen was deemed to be the probable cause. Since then, a drug–free workplace policy, including drug testing, has been a cornerstone of employee and public safety. Allowing unfettered marijuana use will make it impossible to maintain safe workplaces.

Marijuana’s effects are insidious. Even if marijuana use at work is prohibited, there is still residual danger from off–duty use. Numerous studies have shown that the impairing cognitive and psychomotor effects of cannabis can persist days after the subjective high is gone. Studies on pilots have shown impaired performance 24 hours after ingestion. Thus, people using marijuana only on their own time can cause accidents at work. Furthermore, there is no simple way, such as breath testing for alcohol, to measure the impairment caused by marijuana.

Therefore, ACOEM experts have concluded previously, “It is reasonable and responsible for employers to ban the use of marijuana at any time by employees, contractors, and other workers.” If marijuana were legal and employers unable to exclude users, the public would be in danger. For example, school bus drivers of smaller vans exempt from federal testing would be able to ingest as much THC as they want as long as they aren’t obviously impaired and aren’t caught using on the job. Unfortunately, in our experience, impairment is often overlooked until after a fatal accident.

NYOEMA urges New York not to repeat the failed Colorado experiment with legal cannabis. In 2017, traffic deaths in Colorado reached the highest level in a decade while slightly declining elsewhere in the US. Legal marijuana is no solution to the opioid crisis either. More Coloradans died in 2017 from drug overdoses than any year in the state’s history.

Workers whose professions could place the public at grave risk (Police, Fire, EMS responders, pilots, truck drivers, explosive handlers, crane operators, health care professionals, and school bus drivers as examples) should be tested and not cleared if their safety, the safety of their coworkers or the general public is compromised. Legislation which makes marijuana freely available to individuals in these and other positions in which clarity for decision making is paramount, will create great confusion to these individuals, their families, and their employers. Failure to anticipate the issue of safety to our citizens carries grave consequences

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