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Despite a constant push by big marijuana to promote marijuana legalization so that it can cash in on new markets, Nebraska has wisely rejected the lobbying of drug advocates.

The $13.6 billion marijuana industry’s latest efforts have tried to rebrand the drug as a medical tool—even though it’s not approved for medical use. In reality, there is no difference in the chemical composition or potency of recreational marijuana and so-called “medical marijuana.” The same products are being sold under both labels. Today’s commercially grown marijuana and processed pot products have ever-increasing levels of THC, contributing to greater and greater highs for the user, along with larger complications.

The negative effects of marijuana on brain development in youth and cognitive function among marijuana users of all ages are widely known. THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, creates sensory distortions that alter depth perception, inhibit coordination, slow reaction time, and impair motor skills. Drugged drivers on the road, however, are not the only dangerous consequence of marijuana use. An impaired workforce poses a serious and potentially more widespread threat to public health and employment satisfaction in the Good Life.

Drug use in the workplace contributes to higher rates of injury and accidents among workers. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported 55% more accidents, 85% more injuries, and 75% greater absenteeism among employees who had marijuana present in their pre-employment drug test than those who did not. Marijuana use off the job has negative effects at work, as significant data demonstrates cognitive impairment persists for days after use, even when the initial high has worn off.

In a low-unemployment state like Nebraska where businesses struggle to find workers, this is a major concern. Between one in seven and one and eight Americans have used marijuana in the past year according to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health. For employers in industries where a safe workplace is a top priority, finding drug-free workers can be a challenge.

In neighboring Colorado, some employers in industries who must have a zero-tolerance policy for marijuana use, like construction, look to non-legalized states to hire employees. As construction company CEO G.E. Johnson told the Colorado Springs Gazette: “This is a very troublesome issue for our industry, but I do not see us bending or lowering our hiring standards,” Johnson said. “Our workplaces are too dangerous and too dynamic to tolerate drug use. And marijuana? In many ways, this is worse than alcohol. I’m still in shock at how we (Colorado) voted. Everyone was asleep at the wheel.”

In the case of employees who operate heavy machinery, deliver products in trucks, work on manufacturing lines, and do construction, workplace injuries due to marijuana use can be deadly. For customers and clients of Nebraska businesses, impaired workers on the job pose a serious threat to consumer safety.

Marijuana not only increases immediate risk for workplace safety, but also has a significant negative impact on worker productivity. A large study published in the journal Addiction tracked 2,000 workers over a period of 25 years starting in their mid-20s. Marijuana users were less committed to work and their lack of commitment worsened throughout life compared to those who did not use marijuana. The results remained statistically significant even when a number of other factors known to be related to work commitment were considered, including education, socio-economic background, family, and mental health. To grow Nebraska, we must grow our workforce, and that starts with protecting the health and well-being of our people. Less committed, impaired workers due to marijuana is not a path toward a better Nebraska workforce.

The large number of young adults regularly using marijuana suggests the challenges of a drug-free workforce will only increase as the marijuana industry grows. More than one in three 18-25 year olds were past-year users of marijuana, and one in seven 12th graders have vaped THC in the last 30 days according to a University of Nebraska Medical Center study. In a good economy, Nebraska already has more jobs than people that are willing to take them. With marijuana on the market, the workforce development challenges the business community and the State have been working to address would only be exacerbated.

Throughout my time as Governor, I have been committed to growing Nebraska. In keeping with this vision, I have taken numerous steps to build a well-educated, well-prepared, highly skilled, and safe workforce. Over the past few years, that has included expanding registered apprenticeship opportunities and establishing career scholarship programs. Recently, it has meant working with businesses to slow the spread of coronavirus. All Nebraskans deserve a safe working environment. For Nebraska employers, workers, and consumers, legalization of marijuana and normalization of its use, in any form, would be a step backward.

If you have questions about how marijuana would decrease productivity and make workplaces less safe, you can send me an email at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or call 402-471-2244. Now is the time to get Nebraska growing. Let’s keep our workforce strong and protect our families, workplaces, and communities from the negative impact of marijuana legalization.

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