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Photo by Jonas Weckschmied

Canada's Marijuana Lessons

​Alison McMahon is the founder and CEO of Canadian consulting organization Cannabis At Work.​

1. REFER TO CASE LAW. More than 100,000 people currently hold medical marijuana licenses in Canada. Businesses had to address how to accommodate license holders—even if the company had a zero-tolerance substance policy, human rights laws require employers to accommodate mental or physical disabilities and their treatment. However, employees also share the duty of creating a safe workplace, because in Canada individual employees, not the CEO, have personal liability for work-related incidents. Employers can refer to cases stemming from the legalization of medical marijuana for better insight into what issues may come up in the future. For instance, in one case, a heavy equipment operator disclosed his prescription for medical cannabis to his employer and continued his safety-sensitive job. He lost that position two years later when someone at the organization took notice of the prescription. After a review by a physician, however, the man was reinstated because he was not impaired at work.

2. RESHAPE POLICY. A strong policy should allow for prescription drug use but also require the disclosure of any impairment-causing medications, at which point additional steps would be taken on a case-by-case basis. Proactive employers should encourage their employees to disclose the details of their medical cannabis use. The policy must cover the medical side of any accommodation that’s needed, but restrict the recreational side. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that employers can only require drug testing under certain circumstances. Even then, a positive drug test doesn’t mean an employee was impaired on the job because drug tests may register positive weeks after its use.

3. EDUCATE YOURSELF. A workplace culture shift is just as important as a stalwart policy. Cannabis continues to carry a negative stigma, but no matter an employer’s feelings on recreational use, he or she must encourage open communication. Managers should cultivate an environment that will make employees comfortable about disclosing their cannabis use without fear of retribution.

4. SET EXPECTATIONS. Further education for employees is important as laws continue to shift and expectations need to be reset. Because employees have individual liability, it’s up to them to ensure that they follow company policy and understand what the new legislation means for both their work and personal life. Employees also need to understand that although cannabis will be recreationally available, it will be treated like alcohol: they can’t consume or be impaired by it at work.