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Eight ways to prepare your organization for the legalization of marijuana

Monika Slovinec D’Angelo Monika Slovinec D’Angelo
Principal Research Associate
Workplace Health and Wellness Research
The Conference Board of Canada
Bill Howatt Bill Howatt
Chief Research & Development Officer
Workforce Productivity
Morneau Shepell

This op-ed was originally published in The Globe and Mail on July 17, 2018.

On Oct. 17, will your organization be ready to manage cannabis in your workplace?

This date is significant because it’s the day when recreational cannabis will be legalized by the Cannabis Act. Canada will become the first G7 country to fully legalize recreational cannabis, making it the only drug approved for both medical and recreational uses.

It was the question of whether organizations are ready for the legalization of cannabis that inspired the Conference Board of Canada to run two conferences in Toronto to help leaders prepare for the new context, and to complete a piece of research called Blazing the Trail: What the Legalization of Cannabis Means for Canadian Employers.

To frame the conversation, it’s important to recognize that the issue of recreational cannabis in the workplace is not new. While to date it has only been legal for medical use, employers have been dealing with the implications of cannabis, alcohol, cocaine, opioid and amphetamine use for years.

Medical authorization for cannabis use has been increasing at a rapid rate over the past 12 months and recreational use is also expected to increase as cannabis becomes more available and socially accepted.

In 2015, Health Canada found that 12 per cent of the Canadian population over 15 years of age had used cannabis in the past year. Based on data from the first quarter of 2018, the National Cannabis Survey showed that 14 per cent of Canadians in the same age group had used some form of cannabis (for medical or recreational purposes), with 7.8 per cent or 2.4 million using it daily or weekly. This means that on any given workday, a potentially significant number of employees are considering or using cannabis before, during or after work.

With the legalization of cannabis, employers may need to address some of the impacts on the workplace, including: workplace safety concerns; alcohol and drug policies and testing practices; problematic drug use or dependence; defining cannabis impairment; potential costs to the organization; implementing prevention strategies; accommodating medical cannabis use; and consumption during work-related events.

It appears that most organizations fall into one of two groups:

Organizations that are not so concerned take the stance that cannabis is generally not really a big deal. They believe that their substance abuse policies are, for the most part, managing this issue, which from their perspective is not new. Many are still conducting a quality review and refresh of their policies to ensure there is clear language around recreational use. They’re expanding on their fit-to-work policies to ensure that employees are clear on what impairment in the workplace means, and are making it clear that accommodations can be made for medical use only.

The concerned organizations are worried and plan to take certain steps. They may even spend time thinking about how to shape their policy language so as to help them manage the percentage of employees who may seek accommodations for medical cannabis use in the workplace. They’re committed to training managers on approaches to ensure employees are fit for work, and are providing general education for employees to ensure they have the knowledge they need to make informed decisions, rather than assuming they have the right facts. These employers are also more likely to confirm that their occupational health and safety systems and mental health strategies are aligned to support employees’ health and safety.

In preparation for the upcoming legalization of cannabis use, organizations can benefit from the following recommendations:

  1. Provide all employees general information on cannabis, including its various strains, levels of THC in products, effects of different ingestion methods (such as smoking versus eating), and dangers of dependence to facilitate understanding of potential impacts on functioning, impairment risks, and legal implications.
  2. Deliver a webinar to all employees that highlights and educates on the organization’s substance use policy in a way that’s easy, informative and engaging.
  3. Ensure employees are clear on the when and why of cannabis testing policies and practices.
  4. Clearly define cannabis impairment, what fit for duty means, and the employer’s as well as employees’ role in enforcing and supporting safety in the workplace—especially in safety-sensitive workplaces.
  5. Train all managers on how to monitor and manage employees’ fitness to work with respect to cannabis use.
  6. Consider training all employees on the links between stress, mental health, substance abuse, mental illness, resiliency and coping, to promote employee health and well-being.
  7. Provide financial education on the cost of cannabis for medical use (such as using a flower versus oil) and the medical applications of the various types and forms of cannabis.
  8. Make the organization’s position on consumption of cannabis at workplace events clear, and help employees deal with any bias, to reduce risk of peer conflict and harassment.

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