By the time the maple leaves start changing colors this fall, Canadians could be walking into dispensaries around the country to legally purchase cannabis based products.
Nationwide decriminalization could become a reality by the end of Summer 2018, with Canada’s Senate planning another vote on the Cannabis Act on June 8. If passed, the new law will take effect approximately eight to twelve weeks following the vote.
Just like employers in the United States, those in Canada are facing serious confusion about how the new cannabis landscape will impact business operations. Specifically, they want to know how they can manage workplace safety while also respecting the law and employee privacy.
The government of Canada outlawed cannabis in 1923, adding to a list of controlled substances within the Act to Prohibit the Improper Use of Opium and Other Drugs, in addition to cocaine and morphine.
After nearly eighty years, the tide slowly began to turn in 2000, when the Ontario Court of Appeal issued a decision in a case that effectively rendered the country’s marijuana prohibition unconstitutional.
Shortly thereafter, in 2001, medical cannabis was legalized, allowing people suffering from certain illnesses to grow and use marijuana for personal use; however, the government did not provide an avenue for medicinal users to purchase the product from a licensed vendor.
Later in the early 2000s, legislators increased efforts toward decriminalization, but political pressure killed those initiatives and changes in government leadership shifted drug policy in the opposing direction for the remainder of the decade.
Several court decisions and legislative revisions have taken place in the last seven years that have led toward the current moment, when the Government of Canada is ready to rule on the Cannabis Act in the next two months. Passage would mean full decriminalization for adult purchase and use, with the first Canadians being able to buy recreational marijuana by the end of Summer 2018.
“We’re working closely with the Senate and we feel confident, at this time, in that timeline of end of summer that we’re going to see a regime that will control and legalize cannabis,” Mark Holland, with the Department of the Ministry of Public Safety, informed the Global News.
Holland stated Canada’s serious issue with illegal cannabis sales is a driving factor for the move toward legalization.
“It is a massive problem on our streets, and our police are absolutely ill-equipped to handle it,” Holland said. “Our cannabis rates are among the highest in the world. So we can put our head in the sand and pretend the problem doesn’t exist, or we can turn the corner and finally start doing something about it.”
While the Canadian government, medical marijuana advocates, weed devotees and others have their reasons for supporting legalization, employers – no matter their feelings, must reconcile the liberties of the new law with their commitment to maintain protection in the workplace.
Local business groups are scrambling to help their members keep up with the changes. Similar to an American Chamber of Commerce, the St. John’s Board of Trade on Newfoundland set up a hotline for small businesses to call and ask questions about employees who use Cannabis.
Trucking industry organizations are especially concerned with the proposed move toward full legalization. Echoing their members’ worries, group representatives talk about the difficulty of managing possible employee impairment in safety-sensitive positions.
As reported in the Vancouver Sun, Dave Earle, CEO of the British Columbia Trucking Association, said supervisors of truckers are worried about a lack of mechanism for accurately measuring impairment.
“That’s the $64,000 question that everybody wants to know,” Earle stated in the interview. “There’s no answer for that right now. We’ve got great technology that can break it down into exactly how much THC metabolite exists…but we don’t really understand very well how that relates to impairment.”
Learn more about how THC metabolites are detected through drug testing within the United States.
The article also mentions a 2009 case in Canada, in which an overloaded scaffolding collapsed, killing four workers, three of whom posthumously tested positive for cannabis. Their employer faced $750,000 in fines, and a supervisor was sentenced to three and one-half years in prison. The writer also touches on the barriers and confusion set to befall companies who do business on both sides of the U.S. – Canadian border.
Unlike the United States, Canada has no clear law that allows employers to randomly test employees, even in safety-sensitive positions. According to Go2HR.ca, “even where a workplace is ‘highly safety-sensitive’ or ‘inherently dangerous’ (e.g. a paper mill), the employer must establish that it faces ‘enhanced safety risks,’ such as evidence of a substantial substance abuse problem in the workplace, to justify the intrusion on employee privacy.”
In an article in the National Post, British Columbia Trucking Association President Louise urged lawmakers to recognize the needs of employers to monitor their employees for possible intoxication in light of the anticipated cannabis legalization.
“We recognize that there is an increased safety risk due to the possibility of impairment and in order for the public safety risk to be reduced, we think it’s imperative that employers be allowed to randomly drug test workers that are in a safety-sensitive positions,” Yako said in the article.
As Canada faces nationwide cannabis decriminalization, employers in the country face the prospect of having even less control over the impairment of their workers. Education, workplace safety programing and a positive work culture may be the best means toward encouraging employee compliance.