On October 17 Canada became the second country to fully legalise recreational cannabis, with adults now able to purchase and consume the drug from federally licensed retailers across the country. The social normalization and increased access of cannabis, however, has left many employers wandering what repercussions it will have on workplace safety and productivity.
A 2017 survey completed by 650 members of The Human Resources Professional Association (HRPA) found that 46% were not confident their current workplace policies would cover new issues that may arise from the legalization of cannabis. Unlike alcohol, there is no current consensus on safe limits for consuming cannabis and the effects can vary widely. According to HRPA, common effects include “lack of concentration, impaired learning and memory, changes to thought formation and expression, and drowsiness.”
Cannabis is already the most commonly encountered substance in workplace drug testing, but its use is expected to increase exponentially after full legalization. Many employers are concerned that the social normalization of cannabis will result in an increase of workplace incidents, especially in safety-sensitive industries such as those involving the operation of motorized vehicles or heavy machinery.
Several studies have examined the impact of cannabis on workplace outcomes, but with inconsistent results. Some studies have found significant correlation between cannabis use and absenteeism, reduced productivity, job turnover, workplace accidents and injuries, disciplinary measures and interpersonal conflict. Other studies, however, have found no reliable correlation. According to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, there is currently not enough evidence to either support or refute a statistical link between cannabis use and workplace incidents.
A real concern for employers is the lack of consensus surrounding the length of time a person should wait between consuming cannabis and engaging in safety-sensitive work. The Lower Risk Cannabis Use guidelines suggest a period of six hours. More recently, however, the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Association of Canada recommended people wait 24 hours before engaging in safety-sensitive work.
Employers have the right to set rules for the use of recreational cannabis in much the same way that they have always set rules for alcohol use and impairment. In particular, employees may be prohibited to use cannabis in the workplace and may also be prohibited for attending work while impaired. However, the contention surrounding issues of impairment has led to vastly different workplace policies being put in place across Canada. For instance, police officers in Ottawa and Vancouver face no restrictions on off-duty cannabis use, while police officers in Calgary are outright banned from all cannabis use.
The Institute for Work & Health (IWH) have been reviewing the effects of cannabis on workplace injuries, deaths and near-misses. As a result, IWH have raised serious concerns over the inconsistency of the existing data, as well as the lack of precise evidence pertaining to the impacts on cannabis in the workplace. The Institute are calling for more observational research studies and an accurate measure of impairment for use in Canadian workplaces. With the legalization still in its early stages, it is important to establish a starting point for monitoring the long-term impact on workplace health and safety.
Learn more about cannabis in the workplace here.