As cannabis legalization looms, employers and HR departments are scrambling to reassess workplace policies. Issues surrounding privacy, safety and education are top of mind for businesses throughout the nation. In fact, we’re one of those businesses. At Cannathrive, employee sourcing is a big part of what we do. The companies we consult, by their very nature, have employees perpetually exposed to the plant; it goes without saying that these businesses have lots of questions.

And while we certainly don’t purport to have all the answers, we’ve been thinking long and hard about this topic. For this post, we want to share our musings on cannabis in the workplace and address a few of the bigger questions we’re currently faced with.

Is Mandatory Drug Testing Practical?

The short answer is no. First and foremost, mandatory testing will not be the law of the land. The lack of amendments for mandatory testing in Bill C-45 suggests that the government doesn’t plan on getting too involved with workplace policing (with the exception, perhaps, of certain safety-sensitive jobs that deal directly with the public). In fact, even today, the only institution with federally mandated testing is the Canadian Military.

Should a portion of the population be held to a different private-life standard simply because of where they work? Our Charter of Rights would say no. Legal pushback is almost guaranteed for businesses attempting to implement mandatory cannabis testing. Moreover, this route poses a slew of logistical concerns. Topping the list: existing tests aren’t up to snuff. THC remains in one’s system for much longer than alcohol. Simply identifying the psychoactive doesn’t prove impairment.

And while some might point to the saliva-testing devices that the government just approved to curb driving under the influence of marijuana, these devices will be designated to law enforcement only. Not to mention, critics are already pointing out that these controversial machines cannot, in fact, prove that a driver is impaired but only that the drug is present in their system.

How Do We Define Impairment?

Defining impairment is no simple task. Canada.ca states that “cannabis impairment is different for every individual and can be influenced by how you take cannabis. For example, the effects will be felt longer if you eat or drink cannabis-based products.” It goes on to specifically address workplace impairment by noting that “everyone has a role to play in workplace health and safety. Employers and employees alike should be prepared to prevent the risk of cannabis impairment at work…” They’re really not giving us much work with, are they?

But maybe that’s a good thing. It forces us to think of impairment not as a measurement but rather, as a behaviour. In fact, certain government arms such as the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) advocate quite explicitly for this behaviour-assessment approach: “in the case of cannabis use and the workplace, the employer should consider workplace policies and programs as they may relate to impairment from any source such as fatigue, life stresses, alcohol, medications (used legally or illegally), cannabis (recreational or therapeutic), or any other substance.”

The reality is that when it comes to workplace safety and performance, Cannabis is just one of many, many factors that could lead to impairment. By directing all our energy and resources toward identifying this one substance, we’re missing the bigger picture. We need to learn how to identify the behaviour of impairment, not simply the cause.

Where Can We Educate Ourselves?

Indeed, more and more universities, vocational schools and continuing education institutes are developing programs and courses related to big bud. As these disciplines flourish, we’re likely to see other HR and business-related fields adopt cannabis curriculums that explore workplace safety and conduct.

Health Canada is also doing its part. Over the next six years, it plans on spending $100 million on cannabis education. And again, the CCOHS is a resource worth exploring. Their recently updated whitepaper Workplace Strategies: Risk of Impairment from Cannabis is well worth a read! Private companies are also stepping up. Calgary-based Cannabis Learning Series offers online courses for businesses grappling with new legalization realities.

How Can Licensed Producers Approach Cannabis in the Workplace?

While businesses in the cannabis industry are grappling with uncertainties on several fronts, they do have a few handy resources when it comes to workplace safety. Anticipating an industry boom, many consulting firms much like our own have popped up over the last year or so. These companies offer powerful guidance when it comes to managing workplace safety in the world of weed.

As one of the first organizations in Canada offering employee sourcing for licensed producers, we’ve established a vetting process that ensures all employees arrive properly versed in cannabis health and safety matters (both recreational and medical). What’s more, our team of Master Growers and other experts can provide onsite training to your employees. We’ll also work directly with decision makers to develop safety action plans that work. You can explore our full list of services here.

It’s all about education and smart training. Thankfully, we’re starting to see companies address these concerns in really creative and proactive ways. We’re optimistic that in the coming year, we’ll be seeing more innovative training programs popping up throughout the country. Our hope is to build toward a framework that doesn’t rely on privacy invasion and paranoia but rather, open and honest communication between employers and employees.

Chris Zanti

Chris Zanti

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