Legally High: handling marijuana in the workforce

Jean Lian
October 22, 2018
Written by Jean Lian
Oct. 22, 2018 - It is official: recreational marijuana is legal in Canada with effect from October 17. With that comes a patchwork of jurisdictional laws establishing where and how marijuana products will be sold and used by consumers.

The road to legalizing recreational weed in Canada has been fraught with controversy. Pro-pot advocates support legalization on the grounds that it will deal a blow to the black market which threatens public safety, set better quality control of weed to prevent overdoses, promote the availability of medical cannabis and reduce gang-related activity stemming from the illegal drug trade. There is also the argument that legalization will normalize the use of cannabis and encourage people to be more open about it, hence facilitating enforcement. But the concerns associated with legal weed are just as numerous: workplace risks aside, there are adverse physiological effects associated with consuming weed, the risk of addiction and cannabis as a gateway to more hardcore drugs like heroine and prescription opioids.

For many workplaces, giving the green light to pot is akin to opening a Pandora’s box. Unlike alcohol which has a specific numeric value to measure impairment, no such indicator exists for marijuana. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) metabolizes differently than alcohol does: THC hits the peak and dissipates quickly, and the level of THC detected in the blood is typically lower than at the time of ingestion. The duration of high for marijuana also depends on the user’s metabolism and consumption method. An individual with a high metabolism will dissipate THC from his or her system at a much faster rate than someone with a low metabolism. Ingesting marijuana produces a slower but more intense high, while inhalation delivers a quick, albeit shortlived euphoria.

Marijuana will affect Canadian workplaces in various ways. First, it adds to the impetus for some companies to adopt a more aggressive stance in their random-testing policies. That, in turn, could give rise to more litigation involving disputes over whether a company has reasonable cause to conduct drug testing, infringed employee rights in the process of doing so, or inadvertently discriminated against employees who use cannabis as a medicine. Employers will need to review their fit-for-duty policies, and training safety workers to recognize and manage impairment in an appropriate manner will become paramount.

To help employers and safety professionals address these issues, OHS Canada is hosting the second chapter of the symposium on Marijuana in the Workplace: Best Practices for your Company and Employee Expectations at Sheraton Vancouver airport hotel on Nov. 14, 2018. The symposium brings together a panel of experts and industry leaders who will address hot-button issues regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana and its implications on workplace safety in Canada. Attendees will gain insights on compliance, rights and learn best practices in ensuring fitness for duty, manage worker expectations and balance compliance/enforcement with employee privacy. Click on www.ohscanadasymposium.com for more information/to attend the event.

Jean Lian is the editor of OHS Canada, Canada's Occupational Health and Safety Magazine.

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