In case you missed it, the use of cannabis for recreational purposes will no longer be a criminal act in Canada, effective October 17, 2018. While this is a good news story for many recreational marijuana users, it has raised numerous questions and concerns for employers across the country. From an occupational health and safety perspective, employers must continue to ensure that all workplaces are hazard free and that workers work safely.
Why? Because it is the law.
Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, has not been amended. It will continue to prevail with regard to both employer and employee obligations to ensure hazard reporting, injury reduction, and the mutual requirements for ensuring safe workplaces. Even though the use of marijuana for recreational purposes will be legal, its use in the workplace will continue to be illegal.
While the requirements under OHSA are clear, the use of marijuana for medical purposes seems to be muddying the water. Under Human Rights legislation, employee medical requirements fall into the reasonable accommodation category regarding issues of disability or illness. For example, there is no restriction for an employee who consumes a prescribed ‘traditional’ drug for chronic pain relief and is still able to perform the duties and responsibilities of the job safely. Using this example, if the traditional drug is replaced with prescribed marijuana, it seems that its use by the employee in the workplace would not be illegal.
The potential impacts, both positive and negative, of the legalization of marijuana from a workplace health and safety perspective were explored by Jeff Cottrill in a well written piece posted in the summer of 2017.
While the date for legalization has changed since the writing of this piece, the workplace safety issues and concerns continue in all their complexity. The challenge is set for the health and safety practitioner to navigate these murky waters with the clear goal of ensuring that workplace safety is never compromised.
- As the Health and Safety practitioner for your workplace, how will you amend existing health and safety policies or procedures to ensure that employees continue to work safely once the recreational use of marijuana is legalized?
- What are your expectations as an employee with regard to your co-workers if they use marijuana for medical purposes?
- What are the health and safety risks in the workplace if a worker is intoxicated for any reason?