Employers should prepare for legal marijuana, chamber of commerce warnedHines Health Team
Employers at a luncheon hosted by the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce were warned it was time to update their policies on medications and impairment, as the federal government plans to legalize recreational marijuana use next summer.
During the Thursday afternoon meeting, members of Wood Buffalo’s business community were given a presentation on what the future legislation will look like, what rights staff will have and the role employers can play in securing workplace safety.
“With the legislation coming, and it will almost certainly pass, these issues will only grow and you will have to deal with it as an employers,” said lawyer Michael Jones of Stringam LLP. “Safety is key, as is protecting human rights of the people you work with and who works for you.”
Much of the presentation from Jones and Kristi Hines, a registered nurse and the occupational health director of Hines Health Services in Fort McMurray, also focused on what the legislation says about medicinal and recreational usage, as well as safety policies. Hines also discussed health and social trends observed in Colorado after that state legalized recreational marijuana use in 2014.
Both Hines and Jones suggested employers should create a thorough drug and alcohol plan addressing impairment that reflects the upcoming policy. Jones advised employers take the time to also include other medications that could impair workers.
Those in attendance were also reminded that now was the time to create and update policies on allowing staff the chance to seek treatment for addictions issues.
“It’s fair to say as we come closer to legalization, it is possible addiction will become more of an issue,” said Jones. “I can’t stress that enough, that if you have someone who has an addiction… that is an illness. As an employer, it has to be dealt with as an illness.”
Buying marijuana for recreational use is expected to be legal in Canada by July 2018, after the Liberal government introduced legislation last April.
Other levels of government are using the time to resolve critical questions, including how cannabis will be distributed, where it can be consumed and impacts on workplaces.
The municipality is reviewing parameters on how marijuana dispensaries can operate in Wood Buffalo, as well as usage near public spaces.
“From a legal perspective, they can’t come to work unable to function at work,” said Jones. “If you come to work drunk, here’s our policy. Using marijuana and coming to work impaired will have to be dealt with in that manner.”
Most people at the luncheon represented businesses based in Fort McMurray, rather than representatives of large oilsands operators.
However, marijuana legalization has Alberta’s energy industry worried about its impacts on workplace safety and performance. On-the-job drug testing is still practiced within the oilsands, although many labour groups – including Unifor and the Alberta Federation of Labour – consider this an invasion of privacy.
“We are going into uncharted territory,” said Hines. “So it’s going to be a balancing act.”