Marijuana use among U.S. workers jumps to historic high


American workers using marijuana on the job rose to a historic high last year, according to a new study.

Diagnostic information service Quest Diagnostics released a report in May analyzing over 6 million employee urine samples in 2022, and found that 4.3 percent of them were positive for cannabis, up from 3.9 percent in 2021.

This is the highest number of positive test results for marijuana historically recorded by Quest, which has been reviewing workplace drug test data since 1988.

The study was held following a rise in workplace accidents to their highest level in 25 years last year.

Quest found that 7.3 percent of workers who were injured on the job tested positive for marijuana use in 2022, up from 6.7 percent in 2021.

Affecting work performance

According to Quest, the industries that witnessed the greatest increase in positive test results over the past five years were hospitality and food services, which saw drug use spike 42.9 percent, retail with an increase of 42.6 percent, and finance/insurance, which witnessed a 38.5 percent rise.

“This historic rise seems to correspond with sharp increases in positivity for marijuana in both pre-employment and post-accident drug tests, suggesting that changing societal attitudes about marijuana may be impacting workplace behaviors and putting colleagues at risk,” said Keith Ward, GM and VP for Employer Solutions at Quest Diagnostics, in a statement.

Marijuana was not the only drug discovered in the tests.

“The increase in amphetamines positivity is also notable, given the addictive potential and health risks associated with this class of drugs,” said Ward.

Drug tests coming back with positive use of amphetamines rose from 1.3 percent in 2021 to 1.5 percent last year.

However, he pointed out that Quest’s amphetamine statistics do not differentiate between prescribed medications and illicit drug use.

Cannabis legalization

Cannabis products have been found to have a major impact on safety at work, said Katie Mueller, a senior program manager at the National Safety Council focused on cannabis safety.

“The Quest data provide compelling evidence that increased use of cannabis products by employees can contribute to greater risk for injuries in the workplace,” said Mueller.

“It is imperative employers take the proper steps to create and maintain a policy that addresses cannabis use, build a safety-focused culture and educate the workforce to keep all workers safe on and off the job,” she said.

Data have shown that weed tends to have an effect on reaction time, impacts short-term memory, and interrupts basic motor skills essential to driving.

She said that legalization of the drug throughout the states is beginning to create new challenges for employers.

Increases in post-accident marijuana use correspond with the legalization of marijuana in certain states.

After Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2012, 19 additional states and the District of Columbia legalized the recreational use of marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Thirty-eight states, three territories, and D.C have legalized medical use, although both types of use remain illegal under federal law.

Dr. Suhash Harwani, Senior Director of Science for Employer Solutions at Quest Diagnostics at Quest, noted a strong correlation between positive test rates and states that have legalized marijuana use.

“In the general U.S. workforce, states that have legalized recreational and medical marijuana use exhibit higher positivity rates than the national average. States that have not legalized marijuana appear to have positivity rates below the national averages,” Harwani said.

“As employers express concern for employee health, wellness and safety, they may want to consider these data as a warning sign, particularly as a growing body of science demonstrates the risks of marijuana to mental and physical health.”

Author Bryan S. Jung is a native and resident of New York City with a background in politics and the legal industry