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November 15, 2016

Marijuana and Workers’ Comp

Summary:

Studies of NFL players, plus last Tuesday's votes in nine states, suggest marijuana will be a big issue in workers' comp soon. Here's how to prepare.

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

I read an interesting story recently on the front page of Yahoo.com titled “ESPN’s NFL player poll about marijuana had some surprising results.” I then read the source article on ESPN.com, “Survey: Two-thirds of NFL players say legal pot equals fewer painkillers.” The title is fairly self-explanatory.

First, just to ensure we’re on the same page: This is a workers’ compensation issue. The NFL is an employer. The players are employees. The gridiron is a workplace. Pain and injury are realities for the vast majority if not all players/employees at some point in their careers.

See also: 4 Goals for the NFL’s Medical Officer  

The survey was of 226 players, 11% of the total number of players on active rosters and practice squads. So I would consider it a statistically significant sample, and, depending on how the 226 were selected, likely reflective of the full population.

Following are the highlights as tweeted out by @ESPNNFL:

  • Nearly three-quarters of NFL players surveyed (71%) say marijuana should be legal in all states.
  • About one-in-five (22%) say they’ve known a teammate to use marijuana before a game.
  • Two-thirds (67%) say the NFL’s testing system for recreational drugs is not hard to beat.
  • When asked which was better for recovery and pain control — marijuana or painkillers — 41% say marijuana, compared with 32% for painkillers.
  • More than half (61%) say that, if marijuana were an allowed substance, fewer players would take painkillers.

Do these results scare you? Probably depends on the personal opinion you held before you read them. Do these results surprise you? They shouldn’t. According to the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey of 1,042 adults in February 2016:

  • 61% said marijuana should be legal, and of those …
  • 33% with no restrictions
  • 43% with restrictions on purchase amounts
  • 24% only with medical prescription

Add to those figures the five states (Arizona’s Proposition 205, California’s Proposition 64, Maine’s Question 1, Massachusetts’ Question 4, Nevada’s Question 2) that voted last Tuesday whether to legalize recreational marijuana. (Legalization was approved in California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine — though by such a close vote in Maine that a recount is being requested. The pro-legalization side appears to have lost in Arizona, but the vote is still being counted.) Add to that four other states (Arkansas, Florida, Montana, North Dakota) that will vote on medical marijuana legalization. (Legalization was approved in all four states.) All of that means the landscape looks very different than it did a week ago.

So if you are a private or public employer, an insurance company, a work comp stakeholder, a clinician, a politician or state regulator … How different do you think your specific constituency is from the numbers listed above? My educated guess is that both surveys are fairly representative of the U.S. (the only other country that I’ve been following is Canada, which appears to be along the same trajectory in public opinion). Which means the numbers above are likely to guide coming public policy.

See also: How Literature and the NFL Shed Light on Innovation

So what does this all mean for the workplace? Of paramount importance is to have a jurisdiction-specific (because all states are different) drug policy (pre-employment, post-accident, return-to-work) that explicitly addresses marijuana (because presence does note equal impairment, a characteristic unique to marijuana among intoxicants).

And … keep your seatbelts handy.

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About the Author

Mark Pew is a senior vice president at Prium. He is an expert in workers’ compensation medical management, with a focus on prescription drug management. Areas of expertise include: abuse and misuse of opioids and other prescription drugs; managing prescription drug utilization and cost; and best practices for weaning people off dangerous drug regimens.

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