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Medical Marijuana in the Canadian Workplace and Drug Testing

Medical Marijuana in the Canadian Workplace and Drug Testing
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Medical Marijuana in the Canadian Workplace and Drug Testing

Years after the legalization of medical marijuana in 2001, Canada is set to legalize recreational use as well. While many people are thrilled to see this change in policy, some people wonder how it will affect their business, industry, and internal policies.

Drug testing within the workplace in Canada is about to get much more complicated. Employers will be faced with the challenge of devising a marijuana screening policy that is both fair and legal while also satisfying corporate requirements.

In order to make an informed and up-to-date decision on your company’s screening policies, it is important to know about the history of marijuana in Canada, the current and upcoming policies, how these policies differ from other companies, and how to mitigate your risk as an employer.

The Legal History of Marijuana in Canada

Cannabis became illegal in Canada in 1923 and remained that way for the remainder of the 20th century. Although most people had never heard of marijuana at that time, most were eager to include it in the ban against other narcotics. Recreational Cannabis remained relatively unheard of in Canada until the 1930s, but was added to the Confidential Restricted List by the House of Commons on April 23rd, 1923 as a banned substance.

Similar to the situation in the United States, cannabis became quite popular in Canada in the 1960s. As middle-class college students and other users continued to ignore the laws, convictions, fines, and penalties also began to increase. In response to the increased popularity of marijuana and the increase in criminal charges against middle-class citizens, the Canadian government decided to remove criminal penalties for cannabis possession.

Decriminalization in 1972 meant that users caught with marijuana would be fined but would not have to face jail time. There was little change to this policy until 2001 when cannabis was approved for treating patients with HIV and AIDS.

In the time that has passed, marijuana laws in Canada have changed relatively quickly. Medical marijuana was approved for the treatment of a number of medical conditions. Now, Canada is on track to completely legalize the drug for recreational use by the end of 2018. Canadian adults will be able to walk into a store and buy up to 30 grams of Marijuana without any legal consequences.

Medical Marijuana: The USA vs. Canada

Companies operating in both the United States and Canada should think about creating different guidelines and screening policies based on geographical location.  Since the laws in both countries drastically differ, it’s important to always consider these variances and act accordingly.

United States Laws

The United States leaves the legalization of cannabis up to each state. This policy can make things more difficult for companies with multiple sites. Smoking, possessing, and dispensing marijuana are considered illegal in most states, but not in all.

Furthermore, each state within the United States has different rules on the use of cannabis oil, a natural remedy which does not alter the user’s state of mind. It is still uncertain as to whether or not marijuana will become legal across the United States.

Canadian Laws

Medical marijuana is legal throughout Canada and will soon be legal for recreational use.  An individual is allowed to have in possession 30 grams of cannabis and four marijuana plants at any given time. However, dispensaries operate in a legal grey area. In contrast to the legal medical marijuana system, which provides dried marijuana and oil, dispensaries sell pills, creams, cookies, and other products made with cannabis.

As you work to create a business policy about marijuana, it is important to ensure due diligence and consult a lawyer as well as other policy experts to provide insight into what should be included in your corporate policy.

The Effect of Marijuana Legalization on Employers

As with most significant policy changes, the legalization of recreational marijuana will change how employers do business. It is up to each employer to create a policy that meets corporate objectives, however, there are additional guidelines that organizations should consider and be aware of prior to creating & implementing such a policy.

Can Employees Be Impaired at Work?

Although the general public will be legally allowed to ingest cannabis, employees under no circumstance should be permitted to arrive at work impaired. Employers have the right to restrict employees from entering the workplace and being under the influence on the job.  This is particularly the case with those involved in safety-sensitive positions.

With the help of Rapid Drug Screens employers can determine if an employee has been exposed to or consumed Cannabis.  It is important to note that these tools are only used for preliminary screening purposes & cannot determine if the employee is impaired at the time of testing. Employers, however, are permitted to take disciplinary action against any employee with conclusive / confirmed results for marijuana (THC) until full legalization takes effect.

The Use of Medical Marijuana

Rapid Point of Care tests may be used as screening tools for the detection of marijuana in the workplace.  However, the law has been structured differently for those using this drug in a medicinal manner. If an employee carries a medical marijuana card, they are permitted to use cannabis as directed and can not be reprimanded by the employer.

Regardless of an employee’s medical reason for using this substance, no individual may arrive at his/her workplace impaired.   Furthermore, a prescription for marijuana does not grant any of these rights:

  • To drive or endanger others while impaired
  • To operate heavy machinery under the influence
  • To use marijuana as an excuse to break company policies

Employers must always respect the rights of employees with a valid medical marijuana prescription and be offered the same rights as employees with special needs.

How to Create a Policy for Marijuana Detection

As the laws around marijuana change, employers may wish to change their corporate policies about cannabis and drug testing in the workplace.  It is important to ensure due diligence when developing a screening program while meeting corporate culture and requirements.

Here are a few things employers may wish to consider:

  • How to effectively communicate the policy to your employees
  • How to treat & respond to recreational marijuana use in the workplace
  • What medical marijuana involves
  • If a drug screening policy will continue and if so, how often?
  • Will medical marijuana be included in health savings accounts?

Whichever policy is decided upon, it is important to clearly and concisely communicate all aspects of the policy to the employees.  Employers should also be prepared to answer questions and be open to feedback (whether it be positive or negative). This can help make the transition easier for everyone involved.

With the inevitable legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada, both employers and employees will need to consider how this will change their relationship.

With a solid understanding of the policies and legalities, an employer can create a marijuana policy that complies with the law while maintaining order in the workplace.

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Spectrum Medical Diagnostics

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