Back in July 2018, the final push to legalize marijuana left many employers concerned with how these changes will impact their workplace. As a result, I had many conversations with business owners and HR professionals on this topic. The questions people have are the same, and they all relate to how employers can prepare and make sure their workplaces remain safe. Since then, we’ve learned a lot about what legal marijuana means for alcohol and drug policies at work over the past three years.

Understanding the Impact of Legal Marijuana on Workplace Alcohol and Drug Policies

All along, the biggest questions were along these lines:

  • Will legalization give a feeling of entitlement to those who don’t use it now but might start using it now that it is legal?
  • How do I test for impairment?
  • What do I do with positive results?
  • What can I do to make sure that my employees continue to be safe?

So, how can employers prepare their workplaces to account for the legalization of recreational marijuana in alcohol and drug policies?

Here are some tips to help.

Educate Yourself

Bill C-45 – the Cannabis Act – provides legal access to cannabis and controls and regulates its production, distribution, and sale.

The Act permits:

  • The growth of four marijuana plants per household, provided the plants are no higher than one meter. Plants can be grown indoors or outdoors.
  • Adults to purchase fresh cannabis, dried cannabis, oil, plants or seeds.
  • Adults to possess a maximum of 30 grams of cannabis (or equivalent) at a time; however, individual Provinces may reduce this amount if they so choose.
  • NO selling to minors with very stiff penalties for doing so.

Prepare your Workplace

The impact of alcohol and other drug use in conjunction with work can be significant in terms of employee health, workplace, and public safety, as well as operational productivity. Now that it’s legal, marijuana use is not any different from alcohol use in the workplace. Due to their altering effects, neither should be allowed.

Employees will continue to be responsible for showing up fit to perform the duties of their job. Employers will continue to be responsible for ensuring their workplace is safe and that there are processes in place to test for compliance with their Safety and HR policies.

Marijuana should be treated like alcohol in the workplace. No using, no possessing, and workers must be fit to do their jobs.

The workplace mirrors drug and alcohol use in society. You will have employees who use alcohol and drugs recreationally. Sadly, some employees will develop dependencies. There will also be some employees who take medication that may impact the ability to do their job safely. The workplace needs to acknowledge the social use as well as the problem use of alcohol and drugs.

(While you’re here, don’t miss this post on implementing Alberta’s Bill 30 effectively.)

Review Your Alcohol and Drug Policies

Your alcohol and drug policies put into place when legal marijuana was first introduced could stand to be reviewed. Now is a good time to reconsider your alcohol and drug policies to make sure they clearly address:

  • Impairment and dependency
  • What happens on an employer’s property – e.g. employees shall not possess alcohol, drugs, drug paraphernalia, etc. on an employer’s job site
  • Education around drugs and alcohol
  • Prescribed drugs (including medical marijuana) that impact an employee’s ability to work safely
  • How to get support for those who need it
  • Pre-employment testing
  • Define safety-sensitive positions
  • How to monitor for adherence to the policy, including alcohol and drug testing processes
  • When to test, who will make the decision to test, the test method and consequences of a positive test
  • Clearly written definitions and processes around reasonable cause and post-incident testing
  • Contractor responsibilities

Alcohol and drug policies will need to become very explicit. Training for leaders and employees will help everyone understand the responsibilities and expectations.

Determine How and When You Will Test for Marijuana Use

It is still difficult to test for impairment after the use of marijuana. Workplaces will typically use a urine sample that measures THC levels, among other types of drugs, in someone’s system. Admittedly, this tests only for use, not impairment. Employers will need to be watchful and use their Alcohol and Drug Policy as well as performance management to ensure that employees are showing up fit to work in their jobs.

If there is a question around safety or there is reasonable cause to suspect impairment or dependency issues, employers have the right to ask employees to submit to an alcohol and drug test, as outlined in their Alcohol and Drug Policy.

For more information on how we can help you develop an alcohol and drug policy with our HR Consulting Services or how we can help in alcohol and drug-related workplace investigation, please contact us at ACTivate HR.

Did you learn a lot about legal marijuana and workplace alcohol and drug policies in this post?

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This post was first published in 2017, but it was updated in 2021 just for you.