On October 17 Will You Be Ready? ~ By Christina Stewart

On October 17 recreational marijuana will be legal in Canada.  What does that mean for employers?

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It means a few things – but perhaps the most important point is regardless of how you may personally feel about cannabis it’s coming, so as an employer you will have to adapt.

The Conference Board of Canada undertook a survey of employers in the spring of 2018 and discovered that 52% of employers are either concerned or very concerned about how legalizing cannabis impacts the workplace. A few of those employer concerns are:

·        Safety

·        Impairment, defining impairment and testing for impairment

·        Storing or having marijuana at work

·        Potential Costs to the organization

·        Problematic drug use or dependence

·        Creating or refining policy to include the use – medicinally and recreationally – of marijuana

·        Marijuana at work sanctioned social events

·        Creating education and prevention programs

·        Productivity and performance

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Since 1923 recreational use of marijuana had been illegal in Canada, however a Supreme Court of Canada decision in 2001 made medical uses for cannabis legal. The government still has work to do on regulating age limits, taxation, marketing, distribution, impairment levels and a number of other aspects for both medicinal and recreational marijuana. Same goes for employers – there are some decisions to be made and some policy to be set regarding how you treat both the medicinal cannabis legislation and now the recreational within your own work environment. Amending existing policies might be a reasonable option for some employers, but for others, developing or implementing new policies specifically addressing recreational cannabis use may be necessary.

For many employers—particularly those that mainly employ office workers or workers who are not responsible for operating machinery— when it comes to the legalization of recreational cannabis, the initial step involves either making changes to an existent Alcohol & Drug policy or creating one that takes cannabis use into account. Just as is the case with alcohol, the legalization of cannabis doesn’t remove your right as employer to regulate the consumption, possession, and trafficking of cannabis at work. In cases where an organization has prohibited alcohol use while on the job, it can be very simple to tweak this policy to include cannabis, once it becomes legal.

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Over the coming months decisions are being made by our governments, federal and provincial, which should help guide employer decisions for example on testing and determining impairment, however, now is the time to reflect on what your specific issues might be in your work environment and ensuring that you have determined and communicated policy to your employees.

Stay Tuned – I’m certain that there will be more to come on this 'burning' topic before October 17!