It could be a new frontier for some as cannabis is legalized in Canada. However, plenty of businessowners want to know how it could affect their operations.
That was the topic of discussion at the Wetaskiwin Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon held for the first time ever at the Reynolds Alberta Museum Feb. 2. Human resources expert Alison McMahon gave an informative presentation called “Cannabis at Work” discussing how legalization of cannabis, predicted to happen in July of this year, could affect employers.
McMahon said the buzz (no pun intended) about cannabis legalization began a few years ago and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mentioned it during the last federal election. It seemed more and more likely, she noted. “It was definitely something that was of interest to me,” said McMahon.
She said cannabis will have two distinct faces in Canadian society, medical and recreational.
Medical cannabis has been around since 2001, and the legislation came out of litigation. A court ruled a total ban on medical cannabis violated someone’s charter rights. Medical users become a registered patient with a prescription and select a product with a licensed producer.
On the employment side, a number of regulations apply to how medical cannabis is handled in the workplace. A medical user with the proper registration and documentation are protected under human rights legislation; at the same time, employers have a responsibility to ensure a safe workplace for everyone.
Recreational cannabis made its legal debut last April in the form of Bill 45. It will be provincially regulated and users will have access to a variety of products. McMahon said it appears each province will have its own way of handling recreational cannabis. For example, Ontario appears to favour government-run retail, while Alberta will offer privately owned opportunities. “There are a number of complexities with this topic,” said McMahon.
Recreational cannabis use raises the question of impairment, noted McMahon. As employers have a responsibility to ensure a safe workplace, employees can’t bring recreational cannabis to work, can’t use it there and if performing a safety sensitive job, can’t fail a drug test or will probably face consequences.
McMahon said all employers should have a well-publicized drug testing policy and program in place for employees who perform a safety sensitive job, and make sure the policy includes recreational cannabis.
McMahon said she suspected employees will challenge recreational cannabis policies if failures occur.
McMahon also noted the Alberta government has yet to release details about where cannabis can be bought or consumed but it appears Alberta will allow public use.
She also pointed out there is no test for active cannabis impairment today while cannabis is known to hang around in a person’s system for weeks, perhaps months. This creates a limit on drug testing.
She also pointed out, though, that employers can employ “reasonable suspicion” if an employee appears to be impaired at work.
McMahon also stated employers probably won’t be able to use a “zero tolerance for recreational cannabis” policy once cannabis is legal, as such a policy infringes on charter rights.
Lastly, she noted a “Cannabis at Work” conference is coming up Mar. 13 to 14 at Edmonton International Airport’s Renaissance Hotel.