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April 22, 2022

What’s your 420? The Implications of Cannabis on the Construction Industry

Wednesday was 4/20.  Thousands of Americans gathered around the country to celebrate a drug that remains illegal in much of the US; cannabis or marijuana.

April 20 (or 4/20) is cherished by pot smokers around the world as a reason to toke up with friends and massive crowds each year. Major rallies occur across the country, particularly in places like Colorado, California, and 16 other states where marijuana has been legalized.

Legend says a group of Californian teenagers ritualistically smoked marijuana every day at 4:20 pm. The ritual spread, and soon 420 became code for smoking marijuana. Eventually 420 was converted into 4/20 for calendar purposes, and the day of celebration was born. 

Public support for legalizing marijuana went from 12% in 1969 to 66% today. Recreational marijuana, also known as adult-use marijuana, was first legalized in Colorado and Washington in 2012.

What does 4/20 and Marijuana use have to do with construction?

Two of the biggest challenges facing the construction industry are mental health and substance abuse.  Are they connected? Another age-old challenge that the construction industry has always faced is jobsite safety related to injuries and accidents.  Cannabis plays into all of these concerns in a significant way.

Employees of the construction industry, mostly blue-collar workers, have nearly twice the rate of substance abuse as the national average, according to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. Around 15% of all construction workers in the United States have a substance abuse disorder compared to 8.6% of the adult general population. 

Surprisingly, the number one risk in the construction industry isn’t physical, but rather mental.  Suicide was 5 times greater than the rate of all fatal work-related injuries in the construction industry in 2018. 

It is fairly common knowledge these days  that marijauna offers significant medical benefits related to pain and nausea for many medical conditions. There is a growing use of cannabis for other health needs but  the consensus when it comes to using mariajuna for anxiety and depression is that more studies are needed. Is it possible to balance the benefits to the potential determinants when marijauna is abused?

The classic argument for legalization:

Proponents of legalizing recreational marijuana say it will add billions to the economy, create hundreds of thousands of jobs, free up scarce police resources, and stop the huge racial disparities in marijuana enforcement. They contend that regulating marijuana will lower street crime, take business away from the drug cartels, and make marijuana use safer through required testing, labeling, and child-proof packaging. They say marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and that adults should have a right to use it if they wish.  

Medical Marijuana

Depression affects more than 300 million people globally, in the United States, generalized anxiety disorder affects up to 4% of the population, or as many as 9 million people nationwide.  

A recent study of people diagnosed with clinical depression has found that those using medical marijuana had lower depression scores than those who were not cannabis users. Researchers also determined that study participants who began using medicinal cannabis in a follow-up period saw a reduction in both depression and anxiety symptoms.  However, there was a notable increase in anxiety at higher doses. Such an effect was also observed in a recent study in which participants were exposed to a well-validated psychosocial stress task. 

If used correctly, medical cannabis could be an aid to treat the mental health conditions for workers in construction. potentially lowering the suicide rate.  But, it’s a slippery slope. Marijuana has also been linked with other mental health conditions. If you’re at a high risk of psychosis, it’s important to know that marijuana may trigger schizophrenia or psychosis. Studies suggest that regular or heavy users of the drug are diagnosed with depression more often than non-smokers.

The concern for legalization and more widespread use:

The biggest fear business leaders  have expressed when it comes to increased access to marijauna is  that marijauna impairment is harder to spot than alcohol intoxication, leading to the increased chance that workers are working on site or operating machinery impaired.  A quick search on Google brought me to a defense attorneys website that seemed to agree.  I picked a few key sentences below.

“ It is generally harder for police officers to determine if a person is under the influence of marijuana than alcohol because the indicators that a person is high are less obvious than a person who is drunk. While a blood test can eventually confirm whether a person is high or not, a police officer needs probable cause to arrest the person before a blood test can be administered, and therein lies the problem. A drunk is easy to spot. Indicators like slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, odor of alcohol, unsteady balance and bad driving are well-documented signs of impairment…Also, since the late 1970’s, law enforcement agencies throughout the country utilize standard field sobriety tests that are sanctioned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration …These SFST’s were NOT designed, however, to detect marijuana impairment.”

Keep in mind, that is from a DEFENSE attorney.

Here are three other sources:

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported that fatal crashes involving marijuana doubled after legalization in Washington. Marshall Doney, President and CEO of AAA, said, “Marijuana can affect driver safety by impairing vehicle control and judgment.” The Highway Loss Data Institute found an increased crash risk in legal marijuana states and said collision claims in Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington increased 6% as compared to states that don’t have legal marijuana. A meta-study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) concluded that “Cannabis use prior to driving increases the risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident.”

The implications for jobsite safety are pretty clear and on the minds of business leaders.  The potential dangers of someone being high on the job are alarming.

The future of construction - The youth of today are the builders of tomorrow!

There are conflicting reports and studies related to whether there is increased youth use of marijuana but there doesn’t seem any debate that when young people use marijuana, it is very harmful. Marijuana is especially dangerous for young people, because human brains are not fully developed until around age 25.  The American Academy of Pediatrics said that adverse effects of teen marijuana use include “impaired short-term memory and decreased concentration, attention span, and problem solving, which clearly interfere with learning. Alterations in motor control, coordination, judgment, reaction time, and tracking ability have also been documented; these may contribute to unintentional deaths and injuries.”  Studies show that students who use cannabis perform worse in school.  If you consider the high likelihood that a significant number of future construction workers may be using cannabis for several years  at a young age, their skills, abilities, and judgment make for an undependable and dangerous workforce. 

Whatever your opinions are, and I believe most people have mixed opinions; cannabis is here to stay and the topic and repercussions, good and bad, is certainly something the construction industry will be addressing regularly in the  future.

Why DigiBuild?

DigiBuild's founders are committed to reducing suicide incidents and improving mental health within the industry. We believe that along with the many safety advances that are transforming on-site safety like PPE, drones and robotics to name a few; having software tools that lower stress levels and increase efficiency can go a long way to making construction safer.

There is a better way, and our mission is to build blockchain solutions and connected platforms to create a healthier and happier global construction industry.

The result will be a happier workforce, happier clients, and a well-respected construction industry.

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