The problem with marijuana and workplace policies

Legalization threatens to wreak havoc on HR departments, especially regarding recreational or medical marijuana and workplace policies.

Since the legalization of medical marijuana in Canada, the country has faced a startling increase in the number of registered users. Health Canada estimates the number to have surpassed 268,000 as of March 2018 and multiply even more by 2024, with 60% of users being employees. The deluge of cannabis legalization across North America constructs new challenges for employers regarding workplace policies and safety, with failure to regulate resulting in penalization by officials.

In a study conducted by the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) in 2017, the organization concluded that employers and the government at all levels need to work together to create new marijuana and workplace policies, as existing policies do not adequately cover workplace use of legal cannabis. They maintain that all provinces should consolidate to develop protocols related to this issue. Since marijuana is both a recreational and medical drug, the HRPA advises governments to keep separate product streams to allow employers to accommodate a medical condition and not to accommodate for recreational use.

Accommodation is necessary for use of medical cannabis, so long as the employee presents a valid prescription and sufficient medical indication. Employers cannot impinge on that right. However, new Canadian legislation requires employers to authorize workplace policies while avoiding the possibility of accidents due to impaired employees.

Assessment of impairment at work may prove to be the most difficult aspect of designing and implementing policies as testing for drug and alcohol use is one of the most contentious issues in workplace law. Without a clear legal definition of impairment, both business and employees need guidance in navigating this problem.

While a limited amount of studies have been conducted examining the impact of cannabis use on the workplace, the outcomes have proven to be quite inconsistent. The U.S National Academy of Sciences published a report in 2017 on the health benefits of marijuana use, including the impact on injuries in the workplace. The report did not find enough evidence to either support or counter a link between cannabis and workplace injuries.

With the impending legalization of recreational marijuana, experts are unsure of how the landscape of the industry will change. The onus at the moment is unfortunately placed upon lawyers, cannabis clinics, doctors, Licensed Producers, and cannabis advocates to provide support for employers and their employees until a proper framework of policies can be implemented that doesn’t infringe on a user’s rights.