cannabis plant

Cannabis in the Workplace – Key Facts for Employers

As of October 17, 2018, the sale, possession and use of recreational cannabis (also known as marijuana, pot, weed or hash) is legalized across Canada.  What exactly does this mean for employers?
There is an overwhelming amount of information and articles written about this topic over the past year from all perspectives.  To help employers sift through all the noise, this article will highlight some good to know facts and tips that will help provide some guidance.
Quick Facts and Tips:
1. Cannabis is a plant that contains the chemicals of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).  THC is the main psychoactive compound found in the plant that produces a high and CBD is the non-psychoactive compound that counteracts the effects of the THC and is the principal ingredient used for medicinal purposes with associated health benefits.

2. It can be consumed in various forms and ways, for example:
  • Inhaled through smoke, sprays or vapour (with almost immediate effect)
  • Ingested through edibles, oils, liquids or capsules (may take a few hours to take effect)
  • Absorbed through the skin via creams, salves or skin patches 

3.  According to the Cannabis Act, “No person shall consume cannabis in a public place, a workplace, a vehicle or boat.”

      4. General mental and physical effects of cannabis use may include (but not limited to):
  • Feeling happy or high
  • Feeling of calmness, numbness
  • Relieve pain
  • Improve sleep
  • Increase appetite
  • Lower concentration, reaction time and coordination
  • Anxiety, panic, and paranoia
  • Red eyes and heightened senses
5. The effects of cannabis varies from person to person depending on a variety of factors including:
  • How it is consumed
  • Genetics or medical history
  • How often it is used
  • How much is taken
  • THC/CBD dosage levels 
      6. There is no universal agreement on safe limits for cannabis consumption at the moment which makes it difficult to define intoxication and impairment (unlike alcohol).
      7.  There is currently no reliable drug testing to detect impairment.  Existing methods can only detect presence of the chemical compounds of THC/CBD in the body (traces can stay in an individual’s system for days after consumption), but a positive drug test does not mean the person is under the influence or impaired.  More research is needed on this front.
      8.  Employers can initiate discussions to assess intoxication or impairment based on observed employee behaviour combined with possible physical indicators (i.e. unsafe/erratic behaviour, decline in cognitive/decision making abilities and work performance, odour, red eyes, absenteeism/lateness issues, etc.) on a case by case basis.
      9.  Recreational cannabis should be treated much the same way as other controlled substances in the workplace such as alcohol.
      10.  Employers are responsible for ensuring a safe workplace for all employees and must take necessary precautions to protect employees and proactively address workplace hazards especially for safety sensitive positions.
      11. Employers have been dealing with medical marijuana at work for many years – it is not new. Employers will continue to have a duty to accommodate marijuana at work for medical reasons up to undue hardship under human rights legislation (similar to any other employee with a disability who has been prescribed medication to be taken at work).
      12.  Employers can continue to expect employees will not be impaired on the job.
      13.  Employers can prohibit employees from smoking or using recreational marijuana while on duty including breaks.
      14.  Employees have a responsibility to make any accommodation needs known and to cooperate with the employer’s efforts to reasonably accommodate medical marijuana in the workplace.
      15.  Employees are responsible for being fit for work and have a duty to perform their job in a manner that will not jeopardize their own safety and the safety of others in the workplace.

Although cannabis is now legal in Canada, there is still uncertainty in the workplace as to the impacts it may create due to the expected increase in use/consumption of both recreational and medical marijuana.  More research and work needs to be done to better define impairment to assist employers in managing risks and impairment on the job similar to other controlled substances like alcohol.  This will certainly be an area of HR that will continue to evolve in the near future.  For more information on marijuana legalization and it’s effects, some resources have been provided below.

Cannabis in Canada – Get the Facts
Cannabis Legalization – Ontario
The Cannabis Channel – All the latest info on Cannabis in the Workplace
Globe and Mail – Eight Ways to Prepare your Organization for Legalization of Marijuana
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) – Workplace Strategies:  Risk for Impairment from Cannabis

The content shared in this blog post is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. 

At Strategywise HR, we understand the HR challenges organizations face and the workplace laws that affect you.  If workplace issues are keeping you up at night, or you are simply looking for a professional sounding board to determine the best course of action for your situation, please contact us for a free consultation.  Our focus is in helping companies make informed people decisions that reduce risk and costly exposures.


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