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Preparing for the legalization of marijuana

Despite misgivings by some, employers need to be prepared
Powered By Canadian HR ReporterWorkplace - HR Policies||Written By Brian Kreissl
Preparing for the legalization of marijuana
Like it or not, marijuana legalization is coming soon and Canadian employers will need to be able to deal with this issue proactively. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

I have mixed feelings on the impending legalization of marijuana. On one hand, the war on drugs has been a failure, and it doesn’t make sense to prosecute an individual and have that person potentially have a criminal record for simple possession of a small amount of marijuana. We now realize that marijuana isn’t that big a deal, and we’ve moved on from the hysteria of “reefer madness” and the concept of marijuana as a dangerous gateway to much harder drugs.

Lots of people partake in occasional recreational pot use and aren’t going to hell in a handbasket. They are productive members of society and would never even consider trying harder drugs like cocaine or heroin. The opioid crisis is a far bigger problem, which often starts with prescription drugs.

On the other hand, I am concerned with the message we’re sending to our young people with the legalization of pot. Perhaps because I’m a father, I worry about the possibility of enabling a generation of unambitious stoners. No matter what people say, marijuana isn’t completely harmless and can have a detrimental effect on the development of young people’s brains (not that I’m saying alcohol is harmless either but it has been an accepted part of Western culture for thousands of years and trying to ban it was an abject failure).

I also worry about what U.S. customs agents might do when Canadians who have consumed legal marijuana try to cross the border. In spite of the fact that several states have legalized pot, the federal government in the U.S. still takes a dim view of cannabis and has barred people from entering the country who admitted to previous marijuana use.

Already, I seem to be smelling pot wherever I go. That familiar skunky smell is prevalent even in totally inappropriate contexts such as when I’m driving down the highway to work in the morning (a considerable number of people must be smoking up in their cars on their way to work). It is likely to get even worse once legalization actually happens.

Because of these misgivings, I tend to be a supporter of decriminalization of recreational pot use rather than outright legalization. Removing criminal sanctions and criminal records might help remove the stigma of a conviction for pot possession without condoning pot use through the state sanctioned sale of cannabis.

Nevertheless, I am completely aware of powerful arguments against this view such as the fact that decriminalization would do nothing to limit use, enforce minimum age requirements, create safety standards or remove organized crime from the production, sale and distribution of cannabis. I also understand how the sale of pot will result in increased revenue for governments.

The impact on employers

Like it or not, marijuana legalization is coming soon and Canadian employers will need to be able to deal with this issue proactively. Policies and practices will need to be updated and communications will likely need to be sent out to employees in advance of legalization.

Recreational marijuana use is analogous to the consumption of alcohol. However, because of the forthcoming legalization of pot and the fact that marijuana is generally consumed by smoking it, many people seem to treat it more like smoking a cigarette. Yet, much like alcohol, it is important to remember that cannabis can cause intoxication (so I’m told anyway).

Therefore, employees cannot assume they can smoke a joint on a smoke break like they would smoke a cigarette. Not only are there problems with intoxication (particularly in safety-sensitive environments) but coming back from a break reeking of marijuana smoke is extremely unprofessional.

I am aware of a situation in another organization where an individual’s supervisor condones that person smoking up while on duty. The scary thing is this employee is required to drive as part of their duties. No employer should ever condone driving while high.

Employers don’t have to allow employees to show up for work drunk, so they shouldn’t have to allow them to show up stoned either. Many employers have policies with zero tolerance for drugs or alcohol and many even ban alcohol outright from the premises.

Therefore, there is nothing wrong with banning the use or possession of cannabis on company property or while on duty, or showing up to work intoxicated. I will continue this theme next week, including a discussion of medical marijuana in the workplace.