Marijuana in the Workplace

If you’re wondering what the rules will be for using cannabis in the workplace, it’s still a bit hazy. The Cannabis Act, or Bill C-45, which would make marijuana legal in Canada, was tabled by the Liberal government in April. Since they’ve provided vague outlines on how laws will be created or amended for marijuana, but no official legislation has passed. The proposed act is expected to come into play in July 2018. Until then, here’s what we know about weed in the workplace:

Tobacco laws will light the way

According to a recent Globe and Mail article, the responsibility will fall on each province to decide on their own rules. But they will likely follow existing laws that apply to smoking tobacco in the workplace, as well as other laws that prohibit employees from being impaired on the job.

Under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, no one is allowed to light up in any “enclosed” workplace, which isn’t limited to the indoors. It also extends to workplaces that may be located on construction sites, in a trailer or a delivery truck or inside a loading dock.

“The ban on smoking in these places applies at all times, even when not open for business,” according to the Smoke-Free Ontario site.

One of the main goals of Smoke-Free Ontario is to stop second-hand smoke, which may include marijuana when it becomes legal. Employers of workplaces in Ontario must currently abide by these laws:

  • post “No Smoking” signs at all entrances, exits, washrooms and anywhere signs can be easily placed and seen
  • make sure that no one smokes or holds lighted tobacco in an enclosed workplace, public place, or area where smoking is banned
  • make sure that a person who does not comply leaves the premises
  • remove ashtrays (or any object that serves as one)

How high?

The government posted an introduction to the proposed Cannabis Act online, citing a report from December 13, 2016. The report, written by a task force on marijuana legalization and regulation, included recommendations when it comes to weed at work.

Depending on how marijuana affects a person, it may be impossible to determine if they are impaired or not. The report highlighted the issue faced by employers in charge of safety in the workplace, saying impairment of one individual could be dangerous. But the report concluded that the technology and specialized training for marijuana detection are much less advanced than for other substances, like alcohol.

At the moment, there are no Canadian laws that would allow employers to demand mandatory drug tests. Past court decisions show random testing isn’t usually permitted, except in certain cases. The task force said the government should be open to new technologies that would detect the drug reliably and also said more research must be done. Since THC can show up in the system several days after use, it’s not clear how one can accurately test for impairment.

When marijuana becomes legal, employers will have to review policies to include the changes and determine what is best (in accordance with the laws) for their workplace.

Medical Cannabis Use

Many questions arise regarding the use of medical marijuana in the workplace, particularly if a worker is not smoking, but rather ingesting oils, capsules, edibles or other using in another discrete manner. Much like employers treat the use of prescription medications, workplace policies should continue to focus on actual impairment with a focus on an employee’s specific role. Since employers can’t generally test an employee, perhaps a clear workplace policy should be implemented and communicated to employees requiring medical cannabis.

Prepare for change

When weed becomes legal in July 2018, employers and employees should understand what this means. Each workplace will have different rules when it comes to smoking pot. A Globe and Mail article suggests employers take into consideration employees who use marijuana for medical reasons, as well as create new policies for those who use it recreationally.

“Given changing attitudes toward medical marijuana and growing user demand, forward-thinking employers are taking action to include medical marijuana coverage in their benefits plan,” the Globe article says.

Stay up-to-date on the progress of the Cannabis Act by checking the Parliament of Canada website.