‘High”-lighting the Concerns Around Edible Cannabis in the Workplace

One year after recreational cannabis became legal across Canada, sale and consumption of edible cannabis became legal on October 17, 2019. It is expected that the demand for edibles will be high, given that there will be delays in products coming on the market.1 Within the workplace, this raises new concerns and is a reminder of existing challenges relating to safety, education and discipline.

New Concerns

The most pressing new issue with edible cannabis is how employers can detect it in the workplace. Unlike traditional marijuana, edibles don’t have an odour, and can easily be mistaken for every-day food and drink items. This poses additional challenges for employers seeking to ensure their workplaces are safe and employees are not impaired on the job.

A second consideration is where workplace safety and substance-use policies are up to date and reflect the recent legalization of edible cannabis. It is critical that employers be proactive and focus on prevention by reviewing their policies and amending them to cover edible cannabis.

Another concern is a lack of public education and awareness of the range of risks and effects of cannabis, and more specifically edibles. This presents a critical opportunity to education all staff on workplace expectations and responsibilities, workers’ rights, and any new policies around cannabis consumption (including edibles) and impairment. This is also an opportunity to educate all staff on how the effect of edibles can be different in nature and in duration from other forms of cannabis.2 It will also be essential that managers and supervisors receive ongoing training on awareness of potential impairment, including effective, respectful ways to observe employees and detect impairment.

Other policy and education-related actions might include:

      • Surveying employees’ knowledge and understanding of existing workplace policies and new changes to cannabis law
      • Holding workshops or making online tools available to increase awareness of the “link between stress, cannabis, and addiction risk”3

Existing Challenges

These new challenges compound existing problems employers face related to proving impairment. While edible cannabis, and its legalization, certainly creates risk of impairment in the workplace, there are still significant doubts surrounding how long someone can be impaired for and how impairment can be appropriately and accurately tested Re International Brotherhood Lower Churchill Transmission Construction Employers’ Assn. Inc. and IBEW, Local 1620, underscored both the difficulties in accurately measuring impairment, specifically recent or current impairment and the risk to workplace safety that these difficulties raise. In this case, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court said that the arbitrator had reasonably concluded that impairment can last up to 24 hours after use and that impairing effects may not be known to the user [paragraph 42].

Finally, in response to the legalization of edible cannabis, employers should recall their obligations regarding the duty to accommodate, especially in relation to medical cannabis users, under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

For more information about the legalization of Edible Cannabis, please visit: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/health/campaigns/cannabis/canadians.html#a4

For more information about impairment and cannabis in the workplace, please visit: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/health-safety/cannabis-workplace.html

If you have any questions or wish to discuss the implications of the legalization of edible cannabis for your workplace, please contact Cheryl Wiles Pooran at cwpooran@pooranlaw.com

[1] Kristine Owram, “Canada’s Pot Market is Still Struggling to Meet Demand, and it’s About to Get Much Worse” (5 June 2019) Financial Post, https://business.financialpost.com/cannabis/canadas-shambolic-pot-market-will-soon-get-much-worse

[2] Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addition, “Edible Cannabis, Cannabis Extracts and Cannabis Topics: A Primer on the New Cannabis Products” (2019)  https://www.ccsa.ca/sites/default/files/2019-06/CCSA-Cannabis-Edibles-Extracts-Topicals-Topic-Summary-2019-en_1.pdf

[3] Conference Board of Canada, “Workplace concerns around legalization of edible cannabis” (30 August 2019) https://www.conferenceboard.ca/insights/blogs/workplace-concerns-around-legalization-of-edible-cannabis?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1