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Marijuana and the Workplace - Pandora's Box

Posted by Jeff Cox

Jul 31st, 2018

Marijuana and the Workplace - Pandora's Box

On October 17, 2018 marijuana becomes legal in Canada. No big deal, right? Yes, big deal if you are an employer.

This is a complete Pandora's box for most employers and a potential disaster for any employer with safety sensitive positions.

The more I read, and the more details that come out - the more worried I am about the impact this has on the workplace and how poorly prepared we all are.

It is impossible to consider the myriad of scenarios that will play out. Unfortunately, a handful of employers will most definitely provide painful learnings that everyone else will scramble to factor into their business. This is the inevitable reality.

Why the "sky is falling" position? Here you go!

1) Marijuana now will fall into 2 buckets that are handled very, very differently:

a) Medical Marijuana - handled the same as any other medical condition/drug. This is ongoing today and is actually the easiest situation to handle. It requires accommodation where necessary depending on the job demands. It requires documentation with supporting policies and procedures. Why is it easier to handle? Simple - with the proper policies and procedures in place that mirror other medical scenarios, this is black and white (or as close as possible).

b) Recreational Marijuana - not so simple. Many employers will think it's actually much simpler - as they can apply the same rules, policies and procedures as say - alcohol. It's black and white - right - it's a no-no on work time, or to show up to work impaired. Case closed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Marijuana use is way more complicated than alcohol - because we don't fully understand short and long-term impairments - so alcohol polices won't be enough. To make matters worse, I'm not sure we really know what IS enough. See # 2 below.

2) No one really knows, with good, hard data - the impact of short and long-term use, either recreational or medicinal. That's so dangerous it should be keeping employers up at night. The immediate concern is safety sensitive positions. Not so immediate, yet equally concerning is what impact it has on decision making. How long do the effects take to wear off? How long do more subtle effects or impairments last? Is there a cumulative effect on brain function and decision making? This is scary territory. If you have employees in safety sensitive situations - while short term impairment (you can't show up to work stoned) may be similar to alcohol, longer term impairment (if it exists) may be harder to detect and much more gradual - but equally as dangerous. In non-safety sensitive jobs - the concern should be just as severe. Do you want an impaired employee (either acute or long term, gradual impairment) making important business decisions for your company??? Again - the issue here is that we don't really know. The article below hits the nail on the head. Chances are you're not ready.

‘What you do on your own time is our business - Marijuana use affects the brain far longer than 24 hours after initial ingestion

3) Finally - for medical marijuana - it's massively unregulated. Based on a recent Manulife news release (FIND IT HERE) - most physicians will authorize an amount of medical marijuana for patients - but will not provide details on the type. This leaves the patient on their own to determine the strain to take - with huge variations available. There is no other pharmaceutical scenario, that I'm aware of, where this plays out or would be allowed! It's just asking for trouble. In the same news release Manulife announces a partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart to offer services available to support patients on this decision-making path. However - my guess is that it will be optional and even after others insurers follow suit - we will still have sizable gaps in dealing with this issue.

In a nutshell - while legalization is getting a ton of press - I think we are wading into unknown waters here. It's going to be painful for those employers that get caught unexpectedly with scenarios they did not plan for or anticipate.

This is a great example of how the complexity of human resources, employee benefits, workplace safety and occupational health and safety are getting irreversibly intertwined. This stuff can't operate in silos and when it does it puts the employer at huge risk.

Several years ago, we (Selectpath) launched an HR division to better support our clients and to ensure we were not forcing clients into these exact silos. While we had no idea how important this move would be - it has proven to be a wise addition to our core services and now an essential need for us and our clients. I can attest to this with the well-worn path I have forged between my office and those of our HR team!

Questions on what all this means for your company? Comment below or contact me directly to find out what we are doing to help our clients down this slippery slope!

Questions? Contact me at

About Me

I am a bringer of solutions. Small and medium businesses are the cornerstone of our economy. Awesome employees are the cornerstone of those businesses. I help small and medium businesses build integrated talent management strategies and then bring solutions to the table to execute on those strategies. If it relates to attracting and retaining the best possible employee talent - I can help.

I also wear a very technical hat - I'm an Employee Benefits Specialist. I work with small and medium business to make sure their Employee Benefits plans matter to their employees, are cost-effective and sustainable and are much more than an after-thought. I take Employee Benefits seriously and blog about topics that are relevant to small and medium businesses, a woefully under-serviced segment that deserves better.

Marijuana and the Workplace - Pandora's Box

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