ARE YOU READY FOR THE LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA?

The expected time for recreational marijuana to become legal in Canada is fast approaching.  This promise of the government to legalize the use of this flowering weed will present a range of opportunities and challenges.  There are potential market entrants that are already lining up to tap into this profitable space.  Recent statistics show a clear generational divide in the consumption of marijuana as millennials belong to the biggest user group.  This is useful information not just for branding purpose, but for workforce management.  Since there is consensus on the fact that millennials comprise our largest workforce group, then by now Employers should be busily involved in the preparatory steps.

Here are some key considerations in preparing your workplace:

1.    Understanding Your Duty to Accommodate

Since medical marijuana has been legal in Canada since 1999, employers must realize that with a prescription for medical marijuana they have a duty to accommodate but for recreational usage the approach is not the same.  In other words, employers should treat recreational marijuana like alcohol usage, where accommodation would only become relevant if the drug becomes an addictive issue for an employee.

2.    Challenges of Drug Testing

Even though this is still a hazy area, it makes sense to have a drug testing policy implemented, particularly for safety sensitive positions.  As there is an absence of consensus on marijuana impairment testing, employers will have to be mindful of the limitations or challenges they will face when testing for cannabis impairment.  A urine test showing THC (psycho-active chemical in cannabis) is not sufficient proof of impairment or recent use.  As the reliability of drug testing continues to be a troubling concern, employers will have to seek guidance to ensure that the most accurate testing method for cannabis impairment is used. This action, if pursued, of course would depend on specific case assessments and the employer’s duty to maintain a safe work environment.

3.    Creating a Framework for Marijuana Usage

The expected increased usage of marijuana after full legalization will likely lead to higher incidences of workplace impairment. Since the science of testing is still evolving, employers can explore other measures to manage employees who are ‘stoned’ on weed.  At the minimum employers can set parameters to create a restrictive framework to reduce risks catastrophes. Focusing on observable signs of impairment ‘being high on the drug’ such as blood shot eyes, aggression, poor muscle coordination and mood swings are reasonable evidence to determine unfitness for work.  Employers have a duty to maintain a safe work environment, so ensuring sobriety among employees is paramount.

4.    Updating of HR Policies 

As the legal developments concerning legalization of marijuana unfold, employers will need to pay close attention and update policies accordingly.  What is clear is that recreational marijuana at work should be treated like any other controlled substance, such as alcohol. Employers are responsible for the safety of all employees – they have the right to enforce a zero-tolerance policy against intoxication or impairment in the workplace.  Developing and sharing a clear drug and alcohol policy will help to establish shared guidelines around what is acceptable and the consequences of non-compliance.

5.    Workforce Education

No matter what we say about marijuana, if we are truly honest, we will admit that it is not completely harmless. Marijuana is addictive and affects both brain and body.  In view of this, it would make sense to educate the workforce about marijuana side effects, particularly beginner smokers.  Even with the plethora of information about the negative effects of cannabis, such as impaired ability to perform complex tasks, there are users who believe this may not necessarily be a workplace challenge. Many veteran users of marijuana have expressed that with an understanding of the strains of cannabis, smokers can distinguish what is appropriate to use before turning up for work.  Some reports have mentioned that the sativa strain is excellent for focusing the mind for breakthroughs. Regardless of what proves to be true amidst the cannabis conundrum, it is still prudent for employers to gather the facts and break down the myths to ensure authentic information is disbursed to employees.

6.    Management Training

Managers and supervisors are integral to the management of potential workplace issues that may surface with the legalization of recreational marijuana.  It is essential that the management team understand the legal landscape, ensuring that policies are consistent with the cannabis legislation and regulations.  Employers must ensure that line managers understand how to deal with cases of cannabis intoxication among recreational users.  The disciplinary approach must be clearly outlined and communicated throughout the organization. As the legalization of recreational marijuana will not be an automatic permission for usage in the workplace, employers will have the responsibility to set clear expectations and determine what will be tolerated.

At Pesce & Associates, we are keeping abreast of the latest legislation and updates of the marijuana legalization. We have years of experience in creating and updating polices and intervening in workplace issues.  We are ready to provide the HR support you need.
For more information, please visit our website at http://www.pesceassociates.com,  or contact Elizabeth Hill, Managing Partner, at 416- 491-1501 extension 23 or ehill@pesceassociates.com.

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