A company may have to allow more frequent breaks for medical marijuana users and provide a place for them to light up.
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Medical marijuana is being grown at Peace Naturals Project, a federally licensed and regulated commercial medical cannabis grower which will produce and distribute medical pot in Canada.
More of your coworkers may soon be regular marijuana users as the law about how people get the drug for health reasons is eased.
As of April 1, Canadians who need the drug to control pain will only need a doctor’s prescription, instead of a licence from Health Canada. What this will eventually mean, according to Health Canada, is that the country’s legal marijuana supply industry could grow by 10-fold in the next decade. That would add as many as 450,000 medical marijuana users.
The big issue for the workplace is that until now so few people had medical marijuana licences that companies could have zero tolerance policies that included the use of marijuana at work.
But that will change as the numbers legally prescribed the drug increase. So, if an employee is impaired as a result of taking the drug, he must be treated like anyone else with a disability.
Marijuana is used to reduce nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients and people with AIDS. It can also help alleviate pain and muscle spasticity.
Health Canada’s average recommended daily dose for pain control is three to six joints or a similar amount taken orally. That means that to get their daily fix, employees may need to duck out for a toke or two during the work day.
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Lawyer Patrizia Piccolo of Rubin Thomlinson LLP says authorized users of medical marijuana do not have to tell their employer they’re taking the drug.
“It’s like any other medically prescribed painkiller like Tylenol 3. It’s legal,” she says.
The response by a company could be as simple as allowing more frequent breaks and providing a place where the employees can light up. While there are laws prohibiting smoking tobacco at or near the workplace, these rules do not extend to the use of medical marijuana.
Employers may also have to accommodate employees in positions where possible impairment is an issue, by finding other suitable work for them.
However, proving that an employee using medical marijuana is a safety risk can be a challenge for employers. Unlike in the United States, routine workplace drug and alcohol testing is not permitted in Canada because courts and tribunals have ruled that tests revealing drug use are not necessarily an accurate measure of impairment.
“You can only justify drug or alcohol testing if there is a good reason to believe the person is abusing drugs. This would not typically be the case in the use of medical marijuana,” Piccolo says.
Employers can develop a policy that puts limitations on the drug’s use in the workplace.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s policy prohibits medical marijuana while an officer is in uniform. So, New Brunswick Cpl. Ron Francis who uses marijuana to relieve symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder was ordered to turn in his uniform last year.
In a recent Canadian Employment Law Today article, Calgary lawyer Tim Mitchell discusses other things that can be included in company drug policies. “Employers can stipulate that employees cannot come to work impaired; they cannot share their medical marijuana with other employees; and, that unexcused absences or late arrivals will not be tolerated,” he says.
Mitchell also foresees future requests from employees to include coverage for medical marijuana under health care plans and workers’ compensation.
However, the B.C. Supreme Court recently refused a request for compensation under the old rules.
Since 2001, medical marijuana users have been permitted to either grow their own marijuana, authorize someone else to grow it for them, or purchase the drug from Health Canada for $5 per gram.
Effective April 1, the only legal source of medical marijuana will be licensed commercial producers who can set their own prices. The Medicinal Cannabis Patients’ Alliance of Canada opposes the new rules for growing and distributing medical marijuana because they anticipate the cost of a regular supply of the drug will become prohibitive for many people.
Reach Sheryl Smolkin at email@example.com