The impact of cannabis legalization on employers 6 months later

Jun 13, 2019

A recent article in Canadian HR Reporter examines the workplace concerns around legalization of cannabis 6 months after its implementation. According to Jason Fleming, strategic adviser at Cannabis at Work, in Toronto, the hype associated with the legalization of cannabis in Canada was “overblown.”

“A lot of time and attention and paranoia and fear existed right up until the clock turned midnight, and then afterwards, a lot of people realized that there was an overestimation of the negative impacts of this issue… Some employers got a bit carried away,”

Jason Fleming, Cannabis at Work

Fleming said that employers’ approach to cannabis regulations has not been uniform across Canada, and has been largely dependent on the size of each organization. However, employers that have not yet addressed cannabis, by updating their workplace policies to include parameters that specifically outline what is allowed with regard to the use of drugs and alcohol, likely place themselves at risk.

According to Monica Haberl, senior research associate at the Conference Board in Ottawa, increases in workplace impairment and use of medical cannabis will undergo a gradual increase. A recent survey of 163 employers carried out by the Conference Board of Canada showed that 68% of employers have updated alcohol and drug policies, as well as fit-for-duty protocols, and believe that a safety-conscious culture will mitigate potential risks.

Moreover, the results of the survey showed that one-third of organizations promote material on cannabis use in order to educate workers, with the rest of the employers using employee assistance programming or online resources.

“There’s obviously a distinction between an organization that’s highly safety sensitive, versus a smaller organization that’s mostly desk jobs. The risks and potential consequences there are considerably different,” said Haberl. “Even the basic facts are unknown to some potential new users… That then does potentially pose a risk to workplaces where employees just are not well enough informed. They’re potentially posing risks to themselves, their peers, their employment.”

Monica Haberl, senior research associate, Conference Board of Ottawa

Haberl also highlighted the importance of managerial training on impairment identification as well as an updated policy. With the legalization of recreational cannabis it became imperative that employers’ workplace drug and alcohol policies speak directly to the expectations for their employees with regard to its use. “Managers are the first point of contact generally when an employee is concerned with substance abuse or if they want accommodations, or are looking for benefits coverage. So, there are really some potential opportunities for growth in education.”
Ryan Anderson, partner at Mathews, Dinsdale and Clark, an HR law firm in Vancouver, said that now, 6 months after legalization of cannabis, timing is right to update policies and communicate changes to staff.

“The amendments necessary to a standard drug and alcohol policy to address the legalization of marijuana are easy… It’s really a matter of communicating with employees that although this substance has now become legal for recreational use, all of the same safety and free-from-impairment-at-work rules still apply,”

Ryan Anderson, partner, Mathews, Dinsadale and Clark

If you are interested in managerial training on impairment identification and the procedures to deal with that, DATAC can help! Check out our Supervisor Awareness Training, it contains drug and alcohol information as well as impairment identification training and the correct procedures for legally defensible reasonable suspicion testing.

If you are looking for help updating your workplace drug and alcohol policy DATAC is also here to help, we offer consultation and writing services to help you make sure you’ve covered all the bases.