How Will Employers Handle Cannabis In The Workplace?

With the number of states that have legalized recreational cannabis rising, and Canada on the verge of joining the legalization fold, employers are faced with the difficult task of dealing with cannabis in the workplace. And one of the biggest challenges ahead for them is trying to understand the plant itself.

"Some employers still do not know the difference between THC and CBD", Alison McMahon - Founder and CEO of Cannabis at Work - said earlier this week at the 2018 World Cannabis Congress.

That was a common theme in a lot of the conversations between these panellists. Destigmatization and education will play a huge role in the future of legal cannabis. As Anne McLellan, Chair of the Canadian Task Force on Cannabis Legalization pointed out earlier in the day, "if we don’t play by the rules, things can go bad very fast".

That means employers as well as employees will have to familiarize themselves with the rules and regulations to ensure workplace safety.

"[E]veryone is starving for information," Stephen Sayle - CEO of Safety Culture Works -  said during the panel. "There is a vital need for education to understand where responsibility will lay”.

And they also have to balance work safety with respect for the rights of employees.

"All employers have to develop a policy framework that considers human rights and safety-central positions," Zack R. Curry of PEI Liquor told Civilized. "The focus must be on open communication, input from medical practitioners and really diving deep into if these are bona fide medical needs.”

But establishing open communication could prove difficult given the stigmas surrounding cannabis use. So some employees might not be upfront about their consumption if they think discussing it could curtail hopes of promotions or even result in losing their jobs, McMahon noted.

And on top of those problems, there is the issue of establishing consistent workplace policies while respecting with cannabis' unique status as a medicinal treatment as well as an intoxicant.

"We have cannabis as a medicine and we have it as a recreational drug. We do not have a parallel for that,” said Cheryl Kane of Morneau Shepell.

So until employees and employers can have an open and honest discussion about the many forms and uses for cannabis without fear of stigma, weed will remain an elephant in the boardroom.


Right now, cannabis can only be legally purchased through dispensaries or online retailers, but that could change if a group representing corner stores across America gets its way. The lobbying arm of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) is preparing to fight for the ability of their members to sell weed once it becomes federally legal in America. NACS doesn't have support for federal cannabis policy reform on their official agenda, but that doesn't mean they don't want a piece of the pie if the industry is legalized nationwide.

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