Marijuana in the workplace is a hot topic in Canada, especially with the impending legalization of the substance slated for July 2018. Whether you agree or disagree with legalization, a firm understanding of what this means is needed.
I have heard opinions from every side of the spectrum, including:
- If marijuana is legalized, we should no longer test for it.
- If I test workers for marijuana, I won’t have any workers left.
- We should only test for recent use, therefore only oral fluid testing, not urine testing.
- Marijuana is totally natural. No one has ever died from it, there are far more deaths from alcohol. Marijuana is harmless.
- What people do in their own personal time is their business, I only care that they are safe while at work.
- I don’t want to have to pay for the treatment of someone who is ‘addicted’ to pot.
I will not use this forum for a detailed position paper on the topic, although there are some great one’s out there. Here is one of my favourites by Dr. Brendan Adams for The CLR-A. I am choosing to comment on each of these lines of thinking mentioned above.
If marijuana is legalized, we should no longer test for it.
Just because a substance is legal, it does not mean that it should be allowed on the worksite, especially when health and safety are at risk. Alcohol is a legal substance, however, it is not allowed on most worksites because of it’s impairing effects. Smoking is legal and yet, it is not allowed indoors because of the negative health effects associated.
We can even take it a step further and say that there are many things not allowed at the worksite that have nothing to do with safety, but rather the reflection of company standards and values. It may not be illegal to wear flip flops, short shorts and a bikini top out and about, but it is certainly not appropriate or allowable attire for most workplaces (I’ll make an exception for lifeguards!). The point is this, just because the Canadian government is legalizing a substance, it does not mean that the negative effects of that substance disappear. THC does have impairing effects, which I will not be debating here, because of this, employers have both the right and the responsibility to keep their workers safe and should not to allow THC in their safety-sensitive employees. Legalizing a substance does not give it a golden safety seal that negates all ill effects, what it does means is that you won’t receive a fine or charges if you use the substance in a way allowable under the legislation.
Industry often takes the decision to enforce stricter standards than basic legislation. For example, most workplaces test for alcohol with a cut-off level of either 0.02% BAC or 0.04% BAC depending upon the industry. This is far below the legislated 0.05% BAC or 0.08% BAC. When employers are asking workers to perform dangerous jobs, they are taking on the responsibility of keeping their workplaces as safe as possible, this often means banning or reducing legal things and substances.
In short, just because marijuana is on the books to be legalized, it does not mean that employers will decide to stop screening for THC.
In my next blog, I will comment on the next opinion that I often hear, “If I test workers for marijuana, I won’t have any workers left.” Stay tuned!