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Many employers not ready for legal weed, World Cannabis Congress told

Last Updated Jun 12, 2018 at 8:06 pm EST

Many Canadian workplaces aren’t nearly ready for the fast-approaching legalization of marijuana, the World Cannabis Congress has been told.

Jason Fleming, vice-president of human resources for Ontario marijuana producer MedReleaf, said there’s still a lack of definitive testing, and many employers have not educated staff on new policies.

“Employers are having to write policies and have to prepare, but in many cases they are still using really outdated, anecdotal information,” he said Monday in Saint John, N.B.

“Step one is to definitely get prepared, get educated and understand the differences between these products, and recreational versus medical products, and I think that absence of information can be difficult for a lot of employers,” he said.

Urine and saliva tests can detect THC — the active ingredient in marijuana — but that doesn’t indicate active impairment, and it can take between 24 and 48 hours for THC to clear the system.

A worker can test positive if they’ve been exposed to second-hand smoke in a poorly ventilated room, according to a recent study at the University of Calgary.

There are currently no federal labour rules about drug and alcohol testing outside the military, and successive governments from the late 1980s have stayed away from the issue.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees cautions employers from using legalization as an excuse to pursue a more aggressive policy around random drug testing, which is rarely permitted and requires a high legal bar to protect workers’ human rights.

In Toronto however, the TTC brought in randomized testing a year ago.

The TTC workers’ union unsuccessfully tried to get an injunction to stop the random testing — a matter that is still in arbitration.

In the one year since the transit provider began testing, 44 employees have tested positive for drugs or alcohol, according to a new CEO report released on Tuesday.

“The oral fluid technology that we use, we believe is extremely accurate,” says Brad Ross, spokesman for the TTC. “The science is proven, but it takes three days to come back.”

“Our threshold is 10 nanograms for oral fluid, that’s not blood, and we feel that will give us a result that is likely impairment. What’s going to change with cannabis being legalized is nothing. What you do on your own time is none of our business, but … you can’t come to work stoned”

For Metrolinx, randomized testing is still considered illegal under worker’s protection rights. But they say it can do post-incident testing on top of its education programs.

“It doesn’t change anything in terms of our policies,” says Metrolinx spokeswoman Anne Marie Aikins. “We are looking at the randomized testing for our operators. Right now it’s illegal to do that, but TTC has a test case there, so we’re monitoring that to see where we’ll go from there.”

But according to Toronto employment lawyer Howard Levitt, employers won’t need to worry about preparing for legalization because they may not be legally responsible for enforcement.

“I think there really is no onus,” says Levitt. “The fact is they (employers) already have rules and nothing changes.”

“People have this misapprehension that because marijuana is legal, all of a sudden people can smoke up and come to work intoxicated. Alcohol is legal but people can’t come into work drunk. Nothing is different and not even medical marijuana is different.”


However, Fleming said companies that routinely throw liquor-fuelled holiday parties now have to grapple with recreational cannabis use.

“The question is, will an employer allow for that? That is where we will definitely be dealing with holiday season 2018. Employers are going to have to make a call one way or another. That is going to be pretty polarizing,” he said.

According to the Ministry of Labour, Ontario legislation does not specifically permit or prohibit drug or alcohol testing by employers. Employers may decide to institute their own policies however, particularly in safety sensitive occupations.

Patrick Oland, CFO of Moosehead Breweries, said at the congress that the key issue is safety. He said his company has a number of positions that require staff to sample beer on the job — but zero tolerance for anyone operating vehicles.

“Cannabis is a whole new area and ultimately comes down to policy that can evaluate for impairment and discipline for it,” said Oland — adding the simpler that testing can be, the better.

Fleming said writing a policy is half the battle. The other half is making sure it is properly administered.

“So just having something written the week before there’s recreational cannabis for sale in Canada, to me is not sufficient,” he said.

“I think you’re going to want to have had at least a month or more of time to properly communicate, to train, to sign off, and I think we’re underestimating that right now.”


The World Cannabis Congress wraps up Tuesday.