Many companies dazed and confused on how to handle legal pot: survey

An online survey will gauge public opinion on proposed new federal legislation on cannabis. 
Many Canadian HR workers say they feel unprepared for legal marijuana. Ron Ward/The Canadian Press

Many Canadian human resources professionals say their company’s existing drug policies don’t properly address the upcoming marijuana legalization.

Nearly half (46 per cent) of the 650 professionals surveyed by the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) said their company’s existing policies leave unanswered questions on issues that may arise once recreational marijuana is legalized. Slightly more than half, at 54 per cent, said they felt prepared.

Thursday’s report, titled “Clearing the Haze,” predicted that cannabis use in the workplace will increase once it is legalized next Canada Day.

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HRPA urged the government to provide a clear definition on what “impairment” means in relation to marijuana use.

George Waggott, a Toronto-based labour lawyer, says Health Canada has addressed the need for a clear definition, but one likely won’t be finalized until after marijuana is legalized.

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That complicates the task for workplaces trying to create policies surrounding cannabis use, the lawyer said.

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“It’s not going to be easy to say this worker is impaired,” because the definition of impaired will be up for debate, he explained.

Waggott added that unlike alcohol, there is no standardized test for marijuana impairment.

“One person’s impairment may not be the same as another person’s impairment,” he said, meaning that even if two bus drivers consume the same amount of marijuana at the same time, one could be capable of working.

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The report also highlights that employers should steer clear of “zero tolerance” policies on drugs. Waggott agrees that a more “nuanced” approach is needed — one that includes proper rules and consequences.

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“[Zero tolerance] will be the reaction of many,” he said, saying they will try to compare it with alcohol. But that would ignore medical marijuana, and employers’ duty to accommodate disabilities.

While companies are moving toward forming policies, drug plan coverage of medical marijuana isn’t something many are considering.

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About 78 per cent of human resource professionals said they have no plan to include insurance coverage for medical marijuana, 20 per cent said their company is planning to include it. Two per cent of respondents said their company already covers cannabis.

While marijuana rules for workplaces are still hazy, Waggott says it’s up for companies to sort things out and create rules that suit their unique needs.

“I think the government will be reluctant to get involved in that [discussion],” he said. “This is a deregulation move.”