Cannabis Legalization: Defining the Blurred Line Between Legal and Acceptable at Work

As of October 17, 2018 Canadians are able to use cannabis recreationally without fear of criminal sanctions.

Cannabis Legalization: Defining the Blurred Line Between Legal and Acceptable at Work

In The legalization of cannabis: impact for the workplace, Morneau Shepell explores its latest research on recreational cannabis use and implementation, detailing the trends that will change after legalization.

TORONTO, Oct. 25, 2018 -  The adjustment period of cannabis legalization has begun; now is the time that organizations will learn if they are prepared to handle the impact of legal recreational cannabis and its impact on the workplace. In a new report released today, Morneau Shepell explores whether or not employers are equipped to successfully navigate this change.

In The legalization of cannabis: impact for the workplace, Morneau Shepell explores its latest research on recreational cannabis use and implementation, detailing the trends that will change after legalization. Given the need for a more defined direction, the report makes recommendations for a strategic approach that organizations should consider when dealing with use of the substance in the workplace, in a way that ensures employee safety and avoids infringing on individual liberties.

Taking a proactive approach to cannabis use
As of October 17, 2018 Canadians are able to use cannabis recreationally without fear of criminal sanctions. Yet, while public cannabis use is regulated federally through the Cannabis Act, there is an added responsibility for individual employers to address use within their organization.

In the report, Morneau Shepell highlights findings from its latest Trends in Human Resources survey, which revealed that a minority of organizations had implemented policies to address the use of cannabis in the workplace, with several taking a "wait-and-see" approach. Of those surveyed, only one-third (34 per cent) of organizations had already updated their substance abuse policies to manage cannabis in the workplace, while over half (52 per cent) were planning to do so in the next 12 to 18 months.

The study also found that workplace demographics, such as age and gender, could play a role in determining how proactive an organization should be in addressing cannabis in the workplace. Morneau Shepell's study analyzed recreational use by gender, age group and region, finding that cannabis use decreases with age; women were less likely to use than men; managers were equally likely to use cannabis when compared to employees; and use was most prevalent in British Columbia and least prevalent in Quebec.

"Our research pinpointed interesting findings that can be leveraged to monitor cannabis use among various demographics in the future. It's also very critical that employers have a strategic plan for dealing with issues now," said Paula Allen, vice president, research and integrative solutions, Morneau Shepell. "Issues such as impairment in the workplace and the different approaches to medical and recreational cannabis are key, as is supporting knowledge among employees of both workplace and personal health and safety related to cannabis use. It's important that employers address this proactively now and not simply as a reactive measure when a situation arises."

Developing and implementing a cannabis strategy
Effectively managing cannabis use in the workplace goes further than simply introducing a new policy – it requires employers to develop and implement a comprehensive cannabis strategy. The report states that employers should look beyond simply adding cannabis to existing substance policies, such as alcohol and medicinal cannabis, to focusing on communication and training, as well as employee support.

To develop a holistic strategy, the report highlights the following five main considerations:

  1. Recognize that a substance abuse policy might not be appropriate for cannabis, as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can be present in the bloodstream for long periods of time without causing impairment;

  2. Educate and communicate all policy changes, and both work and personal health safety issues, clearly with staff, allowing employees to join the conversation and express any concerns;

  3. Appoint a lead human resources contact to address all employees' cannabis-related questions and concerns;

  4. Align policies with the company's accommodation approach and differentiate between medicinal and recreational cannabis use; and

  5. Implement manager training alongside introducing the new policy, to ensure all issues around impairment, usage and productivity are addressed effectively.

"Legalization is not the same as acceptable in the workplace," continued Allen. "All organizations will have different levels of tolerance. Given the room for interpretation, it is critical that employers define clear substance policies that also cover issues such as accommodation and fitness for work."

Morneau Shepell's customized solutions range from policy development to treatment, for both managers and employees. These include Workplace Learning Solutions, manager consultations, Workplace Referral Programs, Substance Abuse Programs, absence management and accommodation reviews and more.

The full report, The legalization of cannabis: impact for the workplace and detailed information on Morneau Shepell's solutions for cannabis can be found here.