Up in smoke?

New marijuana laws will require changes to company policies
Andrew Snook
January 24, 2018
By
Since the federal government announced that it would be decriminalizing marijuana for recreational purposes in July 2018, a mixed reaction has come from the provinces and territories, and across the public and private sectors.

While the feds have claimed that all levels of government will benefit from a new source of tax revenues that will be generated through the legal selling of the drug, some provinces (particularly Quebec and Alberta) have voiced concerns about the costs of managing the decriminalization of marijuana. Some provincial representatives stated in recent news reports that they only expect minor windfalls once costs of rolling out new programs are included (the federal government would collect half of the revenues from an imposed federal excise tax on the sale of recreational marijuana, if Prime Minister Trudeau’s proposed levy gets approved).

As for positive responses to the decriminalization news, the most public pro-marijuana province, currently, is New Brunswick. The province has expressed excitement about potentially being a leader in the production and distribution of marijuana as a means to stimulate its economy and create much-needed jobs in the province.

Like many of my fellow Canadians, I find myself with mixed feelings about the coming legislation. On one hand, I feel like decriminalization has the potential to increase tax revenues on what would essentially be a luxury item, which I am fine with, while creating new employment opportunities for struggling communities. It also has the potential to relieve a little pressure from some of the country’s more thinly stretched and under-budgeted police services, allowing them to focus on more serious crimes; while allowing government agencies to control the supply helping prevent the tragic deaths and addictions that have stemmed from street dealers lacing marijuana with other more addictive and destructive substances. That said, decriminalization should be done with a great deal of planning and coordination between the feds and the provinces and territories to ensure it is efficiently implemented; and this feels very rushed to me.

While Canadians debate the usefulness of this legislation, and the provinces and territories wrestle with how to roll out programs in time for the July 2018 deadline, many industries have been in panic mode looking for solutions to managing their workforces under the new rules. The construction industry as a whole has been very vocal in its concerns related to the announcement, and rightfully so! With the amount of heavy equipment operators working in the sector, it would be crazy for companies not to be concerned.

As Cann Amm Occupational Testing Services’ Dan Demers pointed out at the 2017 CRAC annual general meeting (for coverage of the event, check out the 2017 July/August issue of Crane & Hoist Canada), most crane companies will need to change their current policies related to job site intoxication to deal with recreational marijuana users.

In the article he stated that, “scientific research and both Canadian and international authorities have made it abundantly clear employers should not support allowing cannabis use – even off the job – and complex dangerous work to mix for any reason.”

Demers went on to explain that a new approach to drug policies would be needed for many companies, since an employee who smokes marijuana recreationally could suffer from the affects of the drug longer than its actual high, and that could affect their ability to perform their job effectively and safely. He believes companies will need a fit-for-duty program, including a policy, training and compliance measures.

As things stand, companies will not always be able to know if an employee is feeling the affects of recreational marijuana use on the job, since drug testing won’t always be effective. So, what’s the answer? I think in positions where the safety of employees and the public is potentially at risk, whether in the crane industry, construction sector or otherwise, companies will need to take a hard stance on recreational marijuana use for heavy equipment operators and just say “No”, whether the drug is legal or otherwise.

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