Medical cannabis has been legal in Canada since 2001, however there have been numerous changes to the laws and a marked increase in the number of Canadians who have registered to purchase medical cannabis. Health Canada data shows that almost 296,702 Canadians were registered to purchase cannabis in March 2017. The number of registered users further grew 32% in the next quarter and has grown to 1,500 times its size since June 2014.
This increase in medical cannabis users and the upcoming legalization of cannabis on October 17th, is posing challenges for employers across the country as they try to manage the impact on their workforce. Most experts feel that cannabis consumption will experience exponential growth once legalization occurs.
Currently, 22% of the Canadian population (age 19 and up) report to using cannabis recreationally. Another 17% of Canadians report that they would experiment with cannabis if it were legal. That’s close to 40% of Canadian adults who report that they will use cannabis come October 17th.
Impact on the Workplace
While adult cannabis use is not a new issue, employers are concerned about how the legalization and subsequent increased use will affect the workplace.
A survey completed by over 650 HRPA members between June 1, 2017 and June 9, 2017 found that 45% of respondents do not believe that their current workplace policies address potential new issues that may arise with the legalization of cannabis. Respondents’ concerns ranged from attendance and decreased work performance to increased insurance claims. Another big concern for some employers is that employees will be operating heavy machinery or a vehicle while under the influence.
The foremost concern for employers preparing for full legalization of cannabis relates to workplace safety. Canadian employers are required by law to ensure safety in the workplace, and there are several new challenges being introduced with the legalization of cannabis. Employers need to set specific policies regarding cannabis use in the workplace and be clear about the policies with their employees.
For instance, the Canadian Forces has already put a policy in place to deal with recreational cannabis use. In the past, cannabis has been a banned substance in the military, but with upcoming legalization, their ability to regulate cannabis use within their ranks is declining. The new policy states that no military personnel may consume cannabis within 8 hours of the start of their shift. If that personnel are handling any live ammunition or weapon during their shift they may not consume cannabis for 48 hours. The regulation still remains in place that cannabis is a banned substance on deployments.
This allows for the reasonable expectation that military personnel may consume cannabis while off duty but provides explicit provisions for the expectations while on duty.
Duty to Accommodate
Due to the fact that cannabis is both a recreational and a medical drug the government must keep two separate product streams and require a prescription for medical use. This will allow employers to continue to determine when they have a duty to accommodate an employee for a medical condition and not accommodate recreational use.
Zero Tolerance Policies
A zero-tolerance cannabis policy is problematic in the workplace due to employers’ duty to accommodate. A zero- tolerance policy could cause discrimination against employees who use cannabis to treat or relieve the symptoms of a disability. To confidently enact a zero-tolerance policy, employers would have to be prepared to establish that sobriety is a bona fide occupational requirement (BFOR) if anyone brought a human rights case against them. Many argue that safety-sensitive workplaces have BFOR and should therefore allow for zero-tolerance policies.
Enform, a safety association for the Alberta oil and gas industries, was one group that submitted recommendations to the federal task force on cannabis legalization. In their submission, they detailed the risks associated with cannabis use and the implications for safety-sensitive work environments. They recommended that:
At minimum, there must be an express prohibition on the use of cannabis in safety-sensitive workplaces. There must also be an express prohibition on using cannabis in close temporal proximity to attending work on a safety-sensitive worksite. An express prohibition on the possession, storage, use or sale of cannabis on safety- sensitive workplaces or facilities associated with those workplaces must also be included.
Thus, while zero-tolerance policies are not advisable in every workplace, there may be a place for them in the safety- sensitive sector.
Cannabis and Your Career
Candidates who are just getting into the job market, and going on numerous interviews, may want to wait to consume cannabis until they get home. Candidates want to make a good first impression with your future employer. Even if employed in the cannabis industry, it’s not a good idea to go to an interview, or work, while intoxicated.
Just because cannabis will be legal on October 17th doesn’t mean an individual should go to work under the influence. Going to work while intoxicated can have numerous ramifications for employees and others, especially if work is done in a safety sensitive environment or an individual must operate machinery. Be a responsible employee and cannabis consumer.
It is also important to understand regulations in the workplace. Many safety sensitive environments in Canada are implementing strict policies regarding cannabis. Most workplaces will likely begin by treating alcohol and cannabis in the same way, if an individual goes to work while intoxicated they will face disciplinary action. It is safer to stay sober, complete the designated shift, and then go home to enjoy cannabis.