In mid-October, the Government of Canada set social policy and the criminal justice system on their collective ears when it made cannabis – often referred to as marijuana or just plain ‘pot’ – legal for the first time since before World War Two. Whatever the rationale for doing so, most observers agree this has been perhaps the most drastic change in social policy and practise since the legalisation of abortion almost 40 years ago. In the new legal ‘pot’ environment there certainly has been a fair amount of economic disruption, but the move will also have consequences and implications across the rest of society.
One of the burning questions has been the impact this new development will have on the work place – whether its factory floor or the retail showroom.
Paula Allen, vice-president of research and integrative solutions at Morneau Shepell, urged employers of every size to develop policies on the use of cannabis in their workplace.
“Given the introduction of new legislation and emerging issues that arise from those changes, it’s important that employers don’t remain static and continually look for ways to adapt to changing environments. The legalization of recreational cannabis is just one of these steps,” she wrote, adding that during a recent research project, her firm found that 12% of employees and 14% of manager reported using cannabis.
“The largest group of current users, employees (23%) and managers (32%) aged 18-34, use cannabis at least occasionally,” Allan said.
“Upon legalisation, cannabis usage is expected to increase,” she continued. “Among current users, 68% indicated they will use more often, while 16% of past users said they would resume using to some extent. Of those who have never tried or used cannabis, 4% reported that they would be more likely to use cannabis.
“This increased usage will affect the workplace, resulting in a need for employers to develop policies that define what constitutes impairment, how to monitor for impairment and respond to employees who are using cannabis,” she added.
The different uses of cannabis
Allen points out employers need to remember cannabis is used in two ways: medically for the treatment of certain ailments and conditions, mostly revolving around the management of stress and pain; and, recreationally, which places different onuses on the employer. Therefore, the employer needs to have policies to cover both scenarios.
“If the health condition impacts an individual’s work, it’s up to the employer to work with the employee to determine the best mechanisms of support and the necessary accommodation,” she said. “For recreational use, where an individual is not under the care of physicians, it’s the responsibility of the employer to ensure that there is no impairment in the workplace.”