Workplace Safety After Legalization of Marijuana

Nov 23, 2017

Since the federal government set July 1st 2018 as the deadline for provinces and territories to produce regulations for the nationwide legalization of marijuana, business owners across the country are urging governments to provide clarification as to how the use of legalized cannabis will impact the workplace and the rights of both employees and employers.

Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, has requested guidance from both the provincial and federal governments in regards to balancing employee privacy and safety once cannabis is legalized, and has asked that B.C.’s Employment Standards Act be amended to include a province-wide standard on the use of marijuana. Currently, WorkSafeBC only specifies that workers are prohibited from performing on the jobsite if they suffer from any physical or mental impairment that could risk their safety or the safety of others, and that employers can prohibit employees from entering the workplace if they are under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or dangerous substances.

“In every province, in every territory, we want to make sure this is done right,” Huberman said, “even if it takes longer than the amount of time allotted by the government.”

Businesses are also exploring workplace drug testing in preparation for the legalization of marijuana, and requesting that the government provide a “legalized framework” for random drug and alcohol tests on company jobsites. As Louise Yako, President and CEO of the B.C. Trucking Association, stated, “We recognize that there is an increased safety risk due to the possibility of impairment and in order for the public safety risk to be reduced, we think it’s imperative that employers be allowed to randomly drug test workers that are in safety-sensitive positions.”

Yako is requesting that rules on random workplace testing be clarified to give employers the chance to effectively manage the safety of their worksites after 2018’s forthcoming legalization.

Workplace drug and alcohol testing is a hotly debated topic in Canadian courts, including Alberta’s Court of Appeal, which, in an unprecedented September ruling, permitted energy giant Suncor to continue to test its workers at its oilsands jobsites.

Contrary to Canadian businesses, unions across the country have yet to claim any position on the presence of legal marijuana in the workplace.