In preparation for the country’s legalization of cannabis slated for July of this year, cannabis producers across Canada are positioning themselves within what is expected to be a booming market. In 2017, the number of Canadians looking for jobs in the cannabis industry rose more than 320%, and many growers expect the workforce to quadruple. As Aurora Cannabis’ Chief Corporate Officer Cam Battley says,“We’re going to need all kinds of people — harvesters, technologists, scientists, people with MA’s and Ph.D.’s, and people with a business background,” and expects to grow his company’s workforce from 450 to 1,000 employees over the next year.
88 licenses for the cultivation and sale of medical cannabis are currently held by 80 companies across Canada, although, according to Health Canada, the number of registered users of medical cannabis has soared 40% over the last six months.
Currently, medical cannabis is legal only when accompanied by a doctor’s prescription, and its possession, production, and trafficking is prohibited under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. That will change in July, when recreational and medical cannabis will become legal across all territories and provinces.
In other parts of the job market, companies who employ workers in safety-sensitive roles and who have adopted drug and alcohol testing as part of their employment policies are concerned about the unreliable nature of the cannabis tests currently available as well as the additional cost the employers will have to absorb to test for this new substance in the workplace.
When the state of Colorado legalized cannabis in 2014, according to Carrie Jordan, president of the DJ Basin Safety Council, “the state made sure companies could terminate or refuse to hire workers who fail drug tests for safety-sensitive positions.” She also advised employers to be clear about maintaining zero tolerance policies when it comes to cannabis in the workplace.
Published annually since 1988, The Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index (DTI) has analysed over 10 million urine samples from job sites and reported an increase in cocaine, cannabis, and methamphetamines. Cannabis, tested for orally, increased nearly 75% to 8.9% in 2016, up from 5.1% in 2013. The appearance of cannabis in both urine and hair tests increased as well.
Employers within the Energy industry already face difficulty when searching for a sufficient number of qualified workers to perform the dangerous, physically demanding jobs in the companies’ remote locations. For Amundson, Essential Energy’s chief executive officer, whose Calgary-based company only hires people who pass a drug test, that means that if the legalization of cannabis increases usage, there may be even fewer employees who will pass the test as a result. “I would always prefer to hire a guy who has a clean drug test and a strong physical body and a great work ethic,” says Amundsen. “But I suspect now our pool of those individuals could get thinner.”
Industry groups all across Canada are bracing for legalization. The Petroleum Services Association of Canada is developing adaptations to their drug and alcohol policies to meet the changes brought on by July’s legislation, and the Canadian Trucking Alliance is advocating mandatory drug and alcohol testing which they hope will limit legal challenges for companies that want to maintain zero tolerance policies.
Cannabis advocates say the concerns voiced by the industry are exaggerated, and that there already exist statistics to show that cannabis is already a common Canadian pastime, with more than 43% of Canadians aged 15 or older having tried pot, 12% using in the last year, with 33% of 18 to 24 year olds having used it in the last year.
As well, employers will still retain the right to ensure that employees are sober on job sites, says Alex Shiff, an advisor at the Cannabis Trade Alliance of Canada. “I don’t think we’re going to be seeing any systemic changes in terms of how society functions,” he said. “Those workplaces that already do not tolerate people being impaired on the job will continue to do so.”
In preparation for the legalization of cannabis, the Canadian government is planning to provide more education and regulation to protect safety on roadways and workplaces.
At Essential Energy, Amundson says he’ll continue drug testing of job applicants for now and will only hire those who pass.