Cannabis IQ: Here’s what you should know about pot in the workplace
As cannabis is legalized across the country on Oct. 17, Global News is answering key questions on what it means for you: What will the roll out look like in each province? What’s the impact on the economy? On your health?
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Private and public sector employers — and the millions of Canadians that work for them — have been scrambling to set boundaries for the use of marijuana, both on the job and off the clock.
The boundaries vary substantially: Canadian prison guards will not be allowed to smoke 24 hours before working, while the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has banned members from smoking pot for nearly a month ahead of working a shift.
The bottom line is this: pot may be legal, but that doesn’t mean you can show up to the office under the influence. And there are concerns that more workers could begin doing just that.
Here are some of the biggest questions (and answers) linked to pot at work, drawn from over two years of in-depth reporting.
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Layers of regulation
Provinces and territories have passed detailed legislation linked to legal marijuana, and many address workplace issues.
In Nova Scotia, for example, there are no changes to the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act as a result of cannabis legalization. But workplaces are, as always, required to have clearly outlined policies, training and hazard assessments in place to deal with impairment from any substance, legal or not.
Ontario, meanwhile, has similar workplace rules already on the books. The province also now has a zero-tolerance policy for any commercial drivers (or drivers of road-building equipment) who get behind the wheel with even trace amounts of THC in their systems.
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So it’s important to know the law in your jurisdiction, and how it applies to workplaces.
One of the biggest challenges for employers has been trying to figure out how to apply these regulations to their individual companies or organizations, and how to define impairment.
A report by the Conference Board of Canada that was published in June revealed that more than half of Canadian businesses are concerned or “very concerned” about the impacts of legalization. At a recent meeting of the World Cannabis Congress in Saint John, N.B. concerns were expressed about a lack of definitive testing and a lack of employee education programs to inform workers of new policies.
Without a clear, legal definition of impairment, many human resources officers say they are unsure how to revise those policies in the first place — especially in sectors that are not especially safety-sensitive.
In an office environment, the connection between substance use and a perceived drop in productivity would have to be quite clear, experts suggest. An employer would also have to rule out the possibility of addiction, which is considered a disability.
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While workplace specific policies may vary, the federal government has made it clear that all employers must prepare for potential hazards caused by possible impairment on the job. In doing so, senior government officials said, each workplace should clearly convey the definition of impairment, what their reporting process is, what steps they want employees to take if they believe someone is impaired, and how they plan to maintain employee privacy throughout.
So how much pot, exactly, is too much to have in your system if you work a desk job? Is it the same amount that would be considered too much if you drive a transport truck? And what if you serve in the military?
One alternative to traditional blood or urine tests — which don’t always measure the level of impairment the way an alcohol test might — could be short video games that must be completed before a shift begins. This type of testing is already being used in the United States.
In a 2013 decision, the Supreme Court set national rules for workplace random drug and alcohol testing, ruling that employers have to be able to show that they have a widespread workplace problem with substance abuse to legally impose it.
Some individual employers, like the Toronto Transit Commission, have proven that they meet this standard, and have brought in random drug and alcohol testing for all employees to cover their bases. The TTC defines a THC level of over 10 nanograms per millitre of blood (ng/ml) as a failure.
In Alberta, Unifor Local 707 won a court injunction last year against random drug testing by oil sands giant Suncor Energy, which already engages in non-random testing. The judge in that case ruled that the privacy rights of employees are just as important as safety concerns.
There are also a number of other issues surrounding legal weed and the workplace.
The people who wish to secure well-paying (sometimes unionized) jobs in legal cannabis stores across the country may have a hard time outlining their relevant experience during job interviews without incriminating themselves, for example.
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