May 15, 2018

Lobby: Pot legalization raises U.S. workforce drug use

Flickr user Brett Levin Photography
Flickr user Brett Levin Photography
Marijuana plants.

American workers are using drugs at the highest rate in the last decade due in large part to several states legalizing the recreational sale of marijuana, according to an anti-marijuana legalization group.

Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), of Virginia, citing a study by New Jersey-based Quest Diagnostics, which has a large presence in Connecticut, says positive tests for marijuana in the workforce surged in all states, or 4.2 percent, in 2017 vs. the prior year.

The largest increases in workers using pot occured in states that legalized the drug since 2016: Nevada (43 percent), Massachusetts (14 percent) and California (11 percent). Those states recorded positivity rate increases in safety-sensitive jobs by 39 percent, 11 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

Positive marijuana tests surged in 2017 by nearly 8 percent among safety-sensitive workers vs. 2016, the study says. Federal law requires drug testing for workers that have an impact on public safety, including airline pilots; rail, bus and truck drivers; and nuclear power plant workers.

A total of 4.5 percent of Connecticut's workforce tested positive for either heroin, amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates or PCP. About 2 percent of the state's workforce tested positive for marijuana, a rate that has remained flat since 2007.

As previously reported by the state Department of Consumer Protection (DCP), the number of registered medical-marijuana patients in Connecticut has increased this year. Between Dec. 2017 and May 6, an additional 3,730 patients registered with DCP, which oversees the program. That represents an increase of 16.7 percent, from 22,348 in December, the agency said.

The number of registered medical providers in the marijuana program over that time grew from 807 to 887, according to DCP. Connecticut legalized medical marijuana in 2012 and began sales in 2014.

The marijuana legalization debate has ramped up in Connecticut, especially after nearby New England states, including Massachusetts and Vermont, recently legalized recreational pot use.

State lawmakers during this year's legislative session did not vote on House Bill 5458, which would allow for the growth of pot in Connecticut that could be sold to individuals 21 years or older for recreational use.

Other bills calling to regulate the legalization of marijuana were also proposed by Democratic state leaders in February. A similar bill in the General Assembly last year failed to reach the House or Senate.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has opposed marijuana legislation but included it as an "alternative" revenue-raising measure in his budget proposal earlier this legislative season.

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