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Are there new rules regarding marijuana and workplace accidents?

Georgia is among the newest states to legalize the use of medical marijuana. While obstacles still remain for patients who want to use the drug, there will no doubt be more people on the the drug quietly working in some of the nation's most dangerous occupations.

On top of this change, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's new rules regarding drug and alcohol testing have taken effect, despite attempts by the National Association of Manufacturers, the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. and other groups to stop them.

What does this mean for Georgia's work force? For now, industrial employers are obligated to take a step back when it comes to automatically testing an employee who is involved in an industrial accident for drug or alcohol use.

Under the new rules, employees who are injured in industrial accidents aren't going to be immediately subjected to a drug and alcohol screening unless the employer has an "objectively reasonable basis" for testing. In other words, post-accident testing is only supposed to be done when the employer believes that the injured employee's drug or alcohol use directly contributed to the accident. Employers are also barred from testing an injured employee for drug use based solely on the knowledge that he or she has used medical marijuana at some point.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says that the changes in the law are necessary to protect injured workers. Right now, many industrial and non-industrial workplaces have automatic drug and alcohol testing policies in place that require the tests immediately after someone reports being injured. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says that blanket policies like that go too far and end up discouraging employees from reporting valid injuries that had nothing to do with their drug or alcohol use.

In the case of medical marijuana use, in particular, OSHA may be correct. THC, the active ingredient in marijuana can stay in a users system long after the effects of the drug have worn off. The more frequent the use and the heavier the dose, the longer the THC can stay in someone's system. That could lead an injured worker to be denied benefits based on the presence of THC in their blood or urine days after they last ingested or smoked the drug.

Any employee injured in an industrial accident who has been denied benefits due to the presence of drugs or alcohol in his or her system may want to file an appeal with the assistance of an experienced lawyer.

Source: AJC.com, "Medical marijuana is now legal in Georgai," Greg Bluesein, Dec. 28, 2016

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