More than half of Canadian businesses are concerned or “very concerned” with the upcoming legalization of cannabis, a new report by the Conference Board of Canada claims.
The findings state that employers’ top concerns include workplace safety, impairment or intoxication and increased use of cannabis in the workplace.
“You’ve got some that are feeling, you know we’re going to be fine. You’ve got others where all the time in the world wouldn’t allow them to feel comfortable. What organizations are coming to terms with more and more is that the change is coming, it’s imminent and that they’re not going to have all the answers,” said Bryan Benjamin, with the Conference Board of Canada.
The report states that employers will be instrumental in shaping the practices around cannabis use in the workplace, which seems to be the very thing that’s making them nervous.
“Organizations are generally still scratching their heads,” said Benjamin.
WATCH: Cannabis and the Workplace
On Tuesday evening, the Senate voted 52-29 to approve the government’s newest version of Bill C-45, the marijuana legalization bill. Bill C-45 now moves to royal assent, the final step in the legislative process, meaning that cannabis could officially be legal in Canada by August or early September.
According to Benjamin, organizations will likely have to educate their employees about cannabis and the company’s position on usage largely on their own, depending on the nature of the industry. In safety-sensitive organizations, for example, where employees are operating heavy machinery or driving long distances, regular drug testing is being explored as an option to curb cannabis use at work.
In office environments, on the other hand, managers may have to find other methods for dealing with intoxication at work and creating a safe environment for employees to ask questions.
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“[Organizations should recognize] that months and even years post-legalization, they’re going to need to be able to adapt as more information becomes available, to potentially implement new policies to even rewrite them as they learn more. So, I don’t think any amount of time would get organizations all the way there,” Benjamin concluded.
At a meeting of the World Cannabis Congress in Saint John, N.B., last week, concerns were expressed that Canadian employers are not ready for legal weed. Jason Fleming, vice-president of human resources for Ontario marijuana producer MedReleaf, said there’s still a lack of definitive testing, and many employers have not educated staff on new policies.
“Employers are having to write policies and have to prepare, but in many cases they are still using really outdated, anecdotal information,” he said at the two-day event in Saint John.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees also cautioned employers from using legalization as an excuse to pursue more random drug testing policies, which are rarely permitted and require a high legal bar to protect workers’ human rights.
“I guess I’m not particularly surprised that half would say they’re concerned or very concerned,” said Andrew Hathaway, an expert in Canadian drug policy with the University of Guelph, who’s been following this issue for the past two decades.
“I expect a lot of places, organizations and jurisdictions are feeling that way. I think we’re getting that sense as we’re moving into legalization. We’ve kind of adopted a ‘hurry-up’ approach and it needs to be coordinated at the federal and the provincial and the municipal levels,” he adds.
He notes that while he’s pro-legalization, “the devil’s in the details.”
“I think a lot of jurisdictions are indicating that they would like to have more time. I imagine workplaces would be in the same boat and certainly would be looking for guidance,” he said.
The report recommends that employers determine how stringent they intend to be when it comes to cannabis use in the workplace ahead of time, including potential discipline for impairment on the job.
In addition, the Conference Board suggests employers provide or redirect employees who may be dealing with problematic cannabis use to resources and confidential treatment programs.
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