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The future of cannabis in the workplace

Even when it's legalized, cannabis users won't be able to carry, smoke, or be impaired while on the job.
Karren Stokke, learning manager for Cannabis at Work, explains the impacts the legalization of marijuana will have on businesses.
Karren Stokke, learning manager for Cannabis at Work, explains the impacts the legalization of marijuana will have on businesses.

Even when it's legalized, cannabis users won't be able to carry, smoke, or be impaired while on the job.

The Bonnyville and District Chamber of Commerce wanted to inform local businesses about their roles and responsibilities once the legalization of marijuana comes into play.

"There are so many unknowns for employers, and there's lots of misinformation out there," explained Tanya Oliver, executive director for the Bonnyville chamber.

She continued, local business owners are concerned about the possible changes once marijuana legalization comes into effect.

For example, there's a whole new liability for employers.

"Cannabis isn't a new substance, but now that it's allowed to be consumed, it's a different awareness. With so many safety-sensitive situations, especially with our chamber members like the oil and gas industry, heavy equipment, and truck drivers, it's really important for employers to make sure they aren't exposed to extra liability, but they're also aware of the human rights implications of certain policy executions," Oliver said

On Wednesday, Jan. 31, Karen Stokke, learning manager for Cannabis at Work, explained how future cannabis use will impact the workplace, and what employers can do about it.

She said it's important for business owners to learn about the role they play in the legalization of marijuana.

"It gives them the tools to help manage cannabis in the workplace. Medical cannabis, although it has been around for a while, people aren't necessarily aware of how to manage it in the workplace.They may not have had a medical cannabis user. Understanding the drug policies, as well as what cannabis is and how to manage it, are really important," Stokke added.

Through her Cannabis and the Workplace presentation, Stokke highlighted the difference between medical and recreational marijuana use, and how THC, the compound responsible for mainly creating the "high" in cannabis, plays a big role in the effects of the drug.

Cannabis in the workplace

According to Stokke, approximately 22 per cent of Canadians have used cannabis.

"Cannabis is not new to our workplaces, whether we want to admit it or not," she said. "There are people who are probably in your workforce who use cannabis, on a regular basis potentially."

Once legalized, cannabis will be treated similarly to alcohol when it comes to the workplace. Employees will not be allowed to carry, purchase, consume, or be impaired by marijuana while at work, and medical marijuana users will be required to disclose their use to their employer.

"One thing you need to remember about recreational or medical cannabis, is as employers you don't have to accommodate impairment," explained Stokke. "A person is not allowed to come to work impaired. That's the way things are now, and that's the way things will continue to be."

Stokke emphasized, employers are not required to entertain impairment, however, when it comes to medical cannabis users, they have a duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship.

This obligation falls under basic human rights regulations.

"If someone using medical cannabis is using it to treat an illness or injury, which would be considered a physical or mental disability, under human rights, you do have to accommodate to the point of undue hardship," Stokke noted.

Having a well-written drug and alcohol policy in place means employers can enforce it if there are situations where an employee is impaired by either substance.

Stokke explained how there are already rules preventing employees from showing up at work impaired; it's known as the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OH&S).

"They can't bring drugs or alcohol to work. That won't need to change with recreational cannabis. It's going to stay the same, but they're going to review the OH&S Act. Generally, we may not see very many changes in Alberta."

Provincially distributing cannabis

"Alberta has told us that we're going to have privatized stores, as well as the government-run online sales, which I think is a really good model," Stokke said.

The province has made the legal age of consumption 18, and has set a maximum number of plants per household at four.

Privatized storefronts are permitted; however online sales are strictly government-run.

Users will be allowed to consume the drug essentially anywhere smoking cigarettes is permitted.

"Obviously restrictions are limited to sports fields and playgrounds. It's going to be out there, versus some provinces who are looking at the idea of only being able to consume in your private residence," explained Stokke. "Even though it's going to be federally legal, it's going to be different depending on what province you're in."

The difference between THC and CBD in cannabis

"THC and cannabidiol (CBD) are very different," Stokke said.

CBD has no psychoactive affects, while THC does, which is why cannabis with CBD is being recognized as a viable treatment for things such as chronic pain, seizures, anxiety, and insomnia, among others.

In Canada, all cannabis from licensed producers is required to be labeled with THC and CBD levels.

Currently, there are two types of strains and effects. The first is Indica, which tends to have a relaxing and sedating effect on the user. It provides relief to those suffering from anxiety, insomnia, muscle spasm, and loss of appetite.

The second strain is satvia, which has uplifting and creative cerebrally focused effects. It's most commonly used to treat depression, ADD, fatigue, and mood disorders.

Keeping it regulated

Although there aren't any sure-fire ways of testing whether or not someone is impaired by cannabis, there are different types of tests that can determine whether someone has consumed the drug.

Urinalysis is the most common form used by employers, however there are other options.

An oral swab will determine whether marijuana has been consumed within a shorter window of detection than a urine-based test. It will detect THC levels anywhere from 12 to 24 hours post-consumption.

Blood tests are also an option, however Stokke said employers are not legally permitted to request a blood sample from an employee.

In order to test impairment, police are using an older method of testing sobriety.

"They're looking at the roadside, touch your nose, walk in a straight line method," Stokke stated.