Could recreational pot reduce NJ workers’ comp claims?
When the newly legal recreational marijuana marketplace finally opens up in New Jersey, it's safe to say most employers won't exactly encourage their workers to show up stoned.
But in mid-career to older workers, a little pot might actually increase their productivity — and keep them from getting hurt on the job, according to a new study co-authored by Rahi Abouk, professor of health economics at William Paterson University and director of the school's Cannabis Research Institute.
"Our results suggest that after states legalize cannabis for recreational purposes, the rate of workers' compensation benefits received declined, by about 20%," Abouk said.
Abouk's research showed that in states such as Colorado that have offered legal recreational cannabis for several years, many employees between ages 40 and 62 substituted marijuana for other drugs, specifically opioids, they had previously used for chronic pain management.
Among other adverse effects, Abouk said that opioids typically reduce workforce participation, but cannabis actually seemed to expand what workers could do.
"Higher work capacity means fewer mistakes at work, fewer injuries, which, we show that non-fatal injury rates decline by about 6%," he said.
The other co-authors of this study have also studied the effects of legal medicinal marijuana, which has been available in the Garden State for more than a decade, on the workplace. The results trended in a similar direction as recreational pot, Abouk said, but not nearly to the same magnitude.
On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported on the successful court challenges of a New Hampshire man who sought workers' comp as reimbursement for medical marijuana he was prescribed after a back injury on the job. The AP noted that a New Jersey appeals court made a similar ruling in favor of a worker last year.
Still, Abouk admitted that some employers may yet try to ban marijuana use by their workers outright, and so further research is needed for better guidance as to whether or not that's a good idea.
"It's up to them," he said. "They have to evaluate the situation, so hopefully our study would be one of the first studies in this area that could provide some additional information."
Abouk did make the point that in 2018, New Jersey paid out $2.4 billion in workers' comp claims, and the 20% decrease his study forecast could mean substantial savings once recreational marijuana gains momentum.
"We can expect some sort of decrease in the expenditure of workers' compensation claiming, hopefully, by next year," Abouk said.
Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.