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Cannabis in the Workplace: Considerations and Accountabilities

This op-ed was originally posted by The Globe and Mail on May 9, 2019.

Bill Howatt is the chief of research for work force productivity at the Conference Board of Canada; Jason Fleming is a certified human resources executive.

The Conference Board of Canada and The Globe and Mail are partnering to explore the relationship between career success and cannabis use. Employers and employees (both recreational and medical cannabis users, as well as non-cannabis users) are invited to participate in this study. (Employees interested in taking the survey can click on this link.; Employers interested in taking the survey can click on this link.) The data from these surveys will be aggregated and used to conduct analysis and create a report that will be presented Oct. 15, 2019 at a conference at The Globe and Mail Centre in Toronto.

Working Canadians who plan to use cannabis recreationally should know what their responsibilities are—both personally and professionally. When cannabis was still illegal, education about the drug was not a priority; people tended to accept anecdotes, opinions and biases as fact.


Much of what we learned about cannabis in recent decades is now up for debate. With people now able to use recreational cannabis and potentially come to work impaired, Canadians need objective information about the drug.

Here are some important things for employees to consider about cannabis:

  • There are hundreds of strains of cannabis, with varying levels of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabinoid that causes impairment. Strains can contain THC levels from below one per cent to above 20 per cent, and cannabis impairment can vary widely from product to product.
  • Effects from cannabis can vary from person to person. Several factors play into this, including diet, sleep habits and how they respond to the drug.
  • Medical and recreational cannabis markets operate separately. To acquire cannabis for medical use, patients need to be authorized by an approved health care practitioner and must order it online from a licensed producer.
  • Approximately 9 per cent of cannabis users develop an addiction to it. Therefore, it’s important to recognize cannabis as a potentially dangerous substance.
  • Impairment from cannabis is complex and varies from person to person. Depending on the strain and how it’s consumed (inhalation versus ingestion), impairment can last from a few hours to more than 24.
  • Employees in safety-sensitive positions, such as pilots and truck drivers, may face drug testing that screens for THC. An individual can test positive for THC for days or weeks after consuming cannabis.
  • Illegal cannabis products are being sold through the internet and are still widely consumed in Canada. Most of these products are not tested for pesticides, mould, yeast or opioid traces. Users should be sure their cannabis products are produced by licensed producers and purchased legally.
  • Individuals should understand that, although recreational cannabis is now legalized, it is not considered equivalent with alcohol at workplace events. It’s important to understand your company’s drug and alcohol policy and its position on recreational cannabis before using it the same way as alcohol.


Both employers and employees are accountable for responsible cannabis use. The most important responsibility for both groups is to maintain safety in the workplace and for the general public.

Employers are accountable for establishing and enforcing policies that cover impairment at work and company-sanctioned events. It’s important that these regulations are objective and reasonable, and that employers clearly and effectively communicate the guidelines across the organization.

Employees are accountable for following federal and provincial cannabis laws, as well as company policies related to substance use. If an employee is unclear about their company’s drug and alcohol policy, they should ask for clarification rather than make assumptions. Employees should be professional and reasonable when it comes to cannabis. Those who occupy safety-sensitive positions will have additional accountabilities, as their role may require drug testing. These employees need to be mindful of the implications of having THC in their system and should expect greater restrictions on recreational substance use.


Employers and employees both need to stay up to date on cannabis legislation. More changes that will impact workplaces are still on the horizon. These include the legalization of edibles, concentrates (which can have THC levels from 60 to 90 per cent) and drinkable cannabis products.

There are short online courses on cannabis in the workplace that can help employees fill in the gaps in their knowledge. They’re designed to help employees make good decisions about cannabis, including how to be safe at work.

Employees considering using cannabis should learn their province’s regulations on cannabis use, such as how much may be transported in a car at one time. They should also be familiar and compliant with their workplace’s substance abuse policy.

Not all employees will feel comfortable asking their employer about cannabis use. Employers can provide a communication tool that lets employees ask questions anonymously and shares the answers with the entire organization. Maintaining an open dialogue around cannabis will be critical for both employees and their employers as Canada’s recreational cannabis market evolves.

For more information contact

Corporate Communications

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