Marijuana legalization a game changer


By Leah Den Hartogh

Contracting companies’ best line of defence for the legalization of cannabis in Canada starts with an updated drug and alcohol policy. Cannabis (or marijuana) was legalized across Canada Oct. 17. However, businesses have been mostly been on their own in terms of how to approach the legalization.

In Ontario, the Progressive Conservative government has established the legislation similar to that for cigarettes – people can walk on the sidewalk and light up a joint, according to the Ontario government website.

This has led many businesses to wonder how legalization will affect their business. Can employees smoke on the jobsite? Can they come to work high? What can an employer do if they find their employees stoned while at work?

Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), suggests that the first line of defence is to create a thorough drug and alcohol policy. “In the absence of a lot of government guidance, what we are doing is providing some information to our members [and non-members]. Most businesses don’t have a workplace policy on this front. We are looking to step in where the government hasn’t been too helpful.”

CFIB has created its Drugs, Alcohol and Medication Policy template to help business owners create a policy at their company. It can be found on the CFIB website (

CFIB has been hearing many concerns from members. “If your employee shows up high, can you send them to do a drug test before they resume their shift? What does that say for safety in the workplace?” These types of issues are addressed in the template, said Kelly.

It includes provisions as to how to deal with an employee suspected to be high. Per the policy, an employer can require testing be done if there are reasonable grounds for suspicion. This may include information that has been gathered based on observation of the employee such as their physical appearance or behaviour.

CFIB works with small businesses from various sectors, including trade contracting companies. There isn’t necessarily more concern over the marijuana issue among trade contractors, said Kelly. “What we are trying to do is ensure that business owners are protected legally and make sure they have taken the steps legally they need to, while also ensuring they don’t get in trouble with their employees.”

The sky isn’t falling

B.C. lawyer Chris Munroe said the “sky isn’t falling,” at a presentation to the Mechanical Contractors Association of Canada (MCAC) in Whistler, B.C. last September. Employees who were already smoking before legalization will likely continue with the practice, he added.

That didn’t leave the members in attendance more hopeful about what to do to stop their employees from arriving at a jobsite “stoned.” Many were concerned about the connection of smoking marijuana and addiction, and what they would be able to do in terms of terminating someone claiming to have an addiction.

Munroe suggested that employers set up a policy for all drugs similar to that in place for alcohol. Elements would include: purpose, applications to both recreational and prescription drugs, differentiations between safety sensitive and non-safety sensitive roles, prohibiting impairment, setting out roles and responsibilities of managers and employees, requirement to self-disclose an addiction and/or prescription, and consequences for breaching policy.

The audience heard court case examples that showed how they can avoid being put in a bad situation because of the new legislation. Many of these elements are covered in the CFIB template.


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