The Cannabis Act will be coming into force on October 17, 2018, and subject to provincial or territorial restrictions, adults will be able to possess, share, buy, or grow legal cannabis up to a designated amount.

According to Statistics Canada, Nova Scotians are Canada’s highest per capita consumers, and 4.9 million Canadians are already purchasing cannabis for medicinal and non-medicinal use, prior to legalization.

Many of us have seen and attended numerous seminars on legalization, listened to industry discussions, yet many questions remain. What does cannabis legalization mean for the workplace? How do we manage a new substance potentially entering the workplace?

Most workplaces today already have Drug and Alcohol Policies in place for managing impairment in the workplace. Recreational marijuana usage can be aligned within your current policies, communicating the policy updates and expectations properly to your team.

Much of the confusion around cannabis legalization and the workplace, comes from the usage of cannabis prescribed for medicinal purposes. A prescription for medical marijuana does not entitle an employee to be impaired at work, to compromise his or her safety (or the safety of others) and does not entitle an employee to smoke in the workplace, or to unexcused absences or late arrivals.

The duty to accommodate required by Federal and Provincial legislation, does extend to medical marijuana. In other words, employees with a prescription are to be accommodated in the same way an employer accommodates any other employee who has been prescribed medication or who has an addiction.

The first step to developing an understanding of how to manage the usage of medical marijuana in your workplace is to do your own research on the effects of impairment of cannabis, and to assess your workplace for safety sensitive positions. The level of accommodations may vary depending on the different roles within your organization.

Employers who are faced with an accommodation request can consider options including moving the employee out of a safety-sensitive position, providing more frequent breaks, implementing alternative scheduling, or changing duties. An employer may also wish to request medical information from the employee’s doctor, including whether or not it is necessary to use during working hours, or are there alternative medications that could be used without the psychoactive ingredient, THC. The important thing to remember when dealing with accommodation requests is that each individual situation will be different, and should be evaluated fairly, with open discussion and an understanding of the obligation of the employer’s duty to accommodate.

A hot topic with benefits providers (and in the courts today) is whether Employer Drug Plans should be required to cover medical marijuana. Several recent court decisions in Nova Scotia have indicated that Providers may not be required to provide coverage for medical marijuana based on human rights concerns, however this is an evolving and new topic in the area of Drug Coverage.

The changes to the legal status of cannabis can seem daunting, but employers can take some simple steps to prepare such as a review of your drug policies to include recreational marijuana, learning about cannabis impairment, a review of safety sensitive positions, and to speak to a professional regarding potential workplace accommodations.