Confused about cannabis

Managers and employees alike still don’t know the basics, judging by a survey

Confused about cannabis

When it comes to cannabis, recreational or medicinal, it’s hard to know where we stand when it comes to the impact on workplace.

Back in October, a survey found only eight per cent of Canadian employers had experienced a cannabis-related incident in the workplace since Oct. 17, 2018 (though the number rose to 22 per cent for businesses with 100 to 499 employees), according to research by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

That’s somewhat encouraging in that we’re not seeing a tidal wave of problems sweeping into the workplace one year after legalization.

But scoot forward a month and another poll (of an impressive 15,000 people in Canada) is more concerning: It found one out of three workers think that if they have disclosed they have a medical cannabis licence, they can consume cannabis during work hours.

More startling, two in five managers think that employers don’t have a duty to accommodate medical cannabis use, according to the survey by Responsible Cannabis Use (RCU) in Toronto.

It doesn’t stop here: Almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of managers believe that a company can implement a random drug testing policy at work if it’s approved by the CEO.

For all the articles, events and webinars that have been done, along with ample media coverage, I would have thought the basics about cannabis would be better understood by now.

Granted, it’s not a black-and-white area that can be treated “just like alcohol,” as has been said, but I would have thought the fundamentals of accommodation should at least be known by now. Especially since medical cannabis has been available a lot longer than the recreational kind.

And to think so many employees believe they’re free to indulge while at work – just because they have a medical pass – is pretty concerning considering the potential for impairment and if not major accidents at safety-sensitive workplaces, at least issues around productivity and errors.

Even the drug testing side of things, which was given ample coverage when Suncor strove to better assess some of its workers by pursuing the case through the courts, is still not clear to many people. Bringing in testing is not just a matter of leadership’s OK – there has to be a really good reason, in a particular workplace environment, and it has to be done right.

Impairment questions

The survey also found roughly two in five of managers and employees don’t know how long the effects of cannabis (both smoking and edibles) can last.

That statistic, at least, is not as concerning. A lot of people, expert or not, don’t fully understand the effects of cannabis. Because it hasn’t been legal for a long time, extensive studies have not been carried out. Plus the potency and makeup of the drug has changed over time, making accurate estimates a challenge.

Health Canada says impairment can last more than 24 hours after cannabis use, citing the 1991 U.S. study “Marijuana carry-over effects on aircraft pilot performance.”

A joint guidance statement from the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses and the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 2015 said that for smoked marijuana, subjective impairment begins soon after smoking initiation and peaks in about one hour and lasts three to four hours after smoking. But experimental studies suggest that measurable impairment in test subjects lasts about six hours, they said, and some studies have demonstrated longer impairment (up to 24 to 48 hours) on specific performance.

Some have even suggested the impairment could last weeks, says the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, citing the 2015 U.S. study “Medical marijuana in the workplace: challenges and management options for occupational physicians.”

Fortunately, people want to know more: 82 per cent of employees and 89 per cent of managers say they want some form of education around cannabis in the workplace, according to RCU.

Hopefully the education will continue then so people gain a better sense of what exactly is involved with this drug, and how it should be properly accommodated at work.

On that note, watch for an in-depth article by Sherrard Kuzz in our December issue, delving into HR-related developments since cannabis became legal, and best practices for employers.

Latest stories