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What does cannabis legalization mean for workers in Canada?

B.C.'s first legal cannabis store in Kamloops, October 17, 2018.

The legalization of cannabis will have an impact on the workplace, and UFCW Local 247 is paying attention to updates and changes that could impact our members. While there are still many unknowns about exactly how cannabis legalization will play out in Canada, members are asked to review and familiarize themselves with the information below.  

Drug testing, workplace safety, and issues of impairment in the workplace:

Union members should know that marijuana legalization does not mean they can consume any amount they wish while working. Policies relating to impairment while working will remain in workplaces (just as they do now for alcohol and other legal substances).

Workplace safety is an ongoing concern, and as with alcohol, marijuana-related impairment is a safety issue. This is relevant whether the use is recreational or medicinal. It is especially relevant if employees use equipment or motor vehicles.

Some issues and consideration around impairment: 

    • The employer can not just randomly do drug tests whenever they want. Drug/alcohol testing is generally restricted to safety-sensitive job sites or situations where the employer has a valid reason to be concerned/suspicious.
    • At this time there remain issues with accurately testing marijuana levels; to date it has been difficult to establish impairment levels with drug testing, as the effects on different people will vary.
    • Some employers may switch to testing capacity/function vs. actual testing levels in system to get around this issue.

As legalization unfolds, Union Representatives will monitor and stay up-to-date about changes in tests that are available, and whether employers are being given more leeway to test more frequently.

Human Rights issues:

Employers will have a duty to accommodate individuals using medically authorized marijuana and those addicted to marijuana, as for any other drug.

Employers also should not discriminate against employees who use marijuana as medical treatment, such as CBD oil to treat chronic pain.

Employees will need to show that there is a medical requirement for marijuana use if they want an accommodation. Employees might need to go further and show that they need to ingest the drug during working hours (i.e. that the treatment cannot be done outside of working hours). It is worth considering what accommodations could be appropriate.

Workplace policies:

There are a number of relevant workplace policies applicable to cannabis use, and some may need to be updated.

  • Policies prohibiting impairment – may specifically address marijuana use and outline what the restrictions are/how they will be tested
  • Policies specifically addressing the human rights issues (above), and allowing for medical marijuana use, are worth considering
  • Smoke-free laws: these apply to smoking marijuana the same way they do to smoking cigarettes. The legalization of marijuana does not mean that employees will be able to smoke wherever they wish.
  • Disciplinary procedures 

As cannabis legalization unfolds in the coming months and years, Union Representatives will monitor and stay up-to-date on developments and changes that could impact our members. 
  • ufcw [at] ufcw247 [dot] com