Legal marijuana is coming, and businesses need to be ready. That was the main message of the marijuana portion of Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce CEO Steve McLellan’s message Friday afternoon at the upstairs boardroom above My Place.
McLellan was in Prince Albert to talk about a variety of issues businesses will be faced with in 2018. The conversation spanned topics such as legal pot, NAFTA, climate change and Indigenous issues.
He spent about ten minutes talking about the legalization of cannabis. While it’s still unknown what day the drug will become legal for recreational users, he stressed that many people will be consuming it on July 1, as that was the federal government’s original timeline.
“The reality is, the world of recreational marijuana was scheduled and thought to be coming on July 1. The law will not change on July 1, but I’m telling you, the world is going to change on July 1,” he said.
“Be ready for it.”
The best way businesses can be ready is to start developing policies, ensuring they’re in place and communicated to staff before that day. Those policies should set out what it means to be impaired or intoxicated, what would happen if you’ve consumed the day before work and how that would be handled.
The issue of defining impairment is important, as someone who consumes marijuana on a day off will no longer be impaired, but the drug may still be in their system.
“If you don’t have that, you’re going to be in trouble,” he warned.
“Otherwise, you’re going to have an employee relationship situation where you could go to court and get sued. You also have a responsibility an moral desire to ensure your employees are safe, not just the person who made a mistake and came to work high. It’s not legal to come to work impaired.”
While the issue of marijuana has often been discussed in terms of jobs involving heavy equipment, it’s also important to be ready in an office environment.
He encouraged businesses to come out to the upcoming workshop being held on March 27. That workshop will discuss the legal framework and help smaller businesses develop policy.
“I don’t want to understate the importance of changing you policies to make sure they’re in place and they’re known,” McLellan said.
“On July 1, there’s going to be a bunch of people who think they’re in the 70s again and are back to rock and roll. Usage will go up, and then it will flatten out. If you’re prepared for impaired workers, you’re going to be okay.”
McLellan also spoke briefly about medicinal users. Those exist in the workforce today, and if you institute drug testing, you will have to navigate around people who have a prescription for medical marijuana.
“If someone comes to you and says they have a prescription, you have a responsibility as an employer to accommodate them,” he said.
“You don’t have a right to say ‘oh yeah, what’s wrong with you?’. That’s their privacy. There are people in your workforce now who have medical marijuana. That doesn’t mean they’re high all the time, it means they’re dealing with a particular medical issue it helps them with.”
McLellan also stressed that just because someone uses medical marijuana, that doesn’t mean they can come to work impaired. Accommodation is made for a worker’s needs, not their preferences, he stressed, and employees don’t get to choose their accommodation.
Chamber releases cannabis recommendations
The Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce also came to the luncheon with a short overview of legal marijuana, including six recommendations:
– Employers should periodically review ongoing legislative development and update drug and alcohol policies accordingly. Policies should be developed in consultation with a labour and employment lawyer and/or HR professional
- When developing policies, treat medical cannabis use and recreational cannabis separately to allow employers to determine their duty to accommodate.
- Employers should ensure their drug and alcohol policies include a clear and functional definition of the term ‘impairment’ that accounts for medical cannabis use, as well as where and when such use is appropriate
- In workplaces with benefit programs, employers should be ready to answer questions from employees around medical cannabis coverage, and explore the benefits of medical cannabis coverage if appropriate, as the costs can be less than conventional medications
- Employers should continually revisit drug testing policies and procedures as technology changes. Until there is a clear, reliable and legally sanctioned way to test for impairment, employers should be made aware of testing methods currently available. Zero-tolerance policies are not appropriate in every workplace, however they may be appropriate in safety-sensitive sectors
- Employers should draft clear policies that address expectations around drug use for employees or contractors who must cross the border into the US. Admitting to cannabis use at the border can lead to inadmissibility, as it remains a controlled substance under federal law.