Impact of Cannabis Legalization on Workplace Policies: Are Employers Ready?

February 1, 2018 | Amy Groothuis

The start of a new year is often a time for setting objectives and preparing for the year ahead. One item that ought to be on all employers’ 2018 planning agendas is the expected legalization of cannabis and what that means for their workplace.

Although the proposed Cannabis Act may be revised prior to its anticipated passage into law in July 2018, it is expected to create a legal framework for the sale and possession of cannabis for recreational purposes. Much remains unknown about how growing, marketing, and selling cannabis will occur on a province-by-province basis, but provinces will be responsible for licensing and overseeing the distribution and sale of cannabis, subject to federal conditions.  In Saskatchewan, sales will be handled by private retailers and regulated by the provincial government. Plans are being developed for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority to issue about 60 retail permits to private operators in as many as 40 municipalities and First Nations communities.

Regardless of the structure for sales, the impact is likely to be felt across the country and for employers in particular. With less than six months to the legalization of cannabis, employers are well advised to consider current workplace policies, expectations of staff, and safety concerns.  Prior to the legislation’s coming into effect, employers ought to modify their current workplace policies to accord with the legislative changes and to take effect once the legislation is passed. In particular, employers should consider whether existing workplace policies accurately capture matters such as:

  • Workplace expectations (smoke-free workplace, scent-free workplace) to ensure they include reference to cannabis and cannabis related products;
  • The consequences of cannabis impairment at work, including how impairment can be reasonably determined;
  • The application of progressive discipline for impairment at work;
  • The ability of employees to self-disclose use and/or dependency, and how that will be treated;
  • The intersection of medical conditions and accommodation policies with respect to the use of medical cannabis; and
  • How accommodation policies ought to reflect dependency or addiction to cannabis.

For employers with safety-sensitive work sites, including those that utilize heavy machinery, understanding cannabis impairment and how to test for it is a significant factor.  Employees may view legal cannabis similarly to alcohol use, within the accepted social norm of occasional use outside of work. Moreover, because cannabis can be ingested in a variety forms and amounts, one’s level of impairment can vary considerably. The expectations that employees attend work sober and prepared to perform their duties are no different than the expectations related to alcohol use.

However, employers are cautioned against simply relying upon broad workplace policies that fail to recognize the changing landscape with respect to recreational cannabis use. There is still time to update workplace policies, and employers are encouraged to ensure they are prepared when July 2018 rolls around.

Miller Thomson LLP is actively engaged in drafting and updating human resource and workplace policies, and is well positioned to answer questions about the impact of legalization of cannabis on your workplace.  Contact us to find out how we can assist you.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.


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