Canada may legalize marijuana; impact on workplace mulled


WINNIPEG, Manitoba — While Philippine Congress has yet to adopt the Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act to legalize and regulate the medicinal use of cannabis, in Canada, medical cannabis or marijuana has been legal since 1999.

In fact, the federal government has introduced legislation to legalize and regulate recreational cannabis. Bill C-45 or the Cannabis Act, anticipated to be finalized in summer, will create rules for producing, possessing, and selling cannabis across Canada.


According to the government of Canada, should the Cannabis Act be enacted and enforced, adults who are 18 years or older would be able to legally possess up to 30 grams of legal dried cannabis; share up to 30 grams of legal cannabis with other adults; purchase dried or fresh cannabis oil from provincially-licensed retailers; grow up to 4 cannabis plants per residence for personal use; and make cannabis products, such as food and drinks, at home.

Strict requirements


While the federal government will be responsible for setting strict requirements for producers and setting industry-wide rules and standards, the provincial governments will license and oversee the distribution of and sale of cannabis.

A store manager who requested anonymity stated that the legalization of recreational cannabis will be done as a revenue-generating measure. He opined that since it is already being sold in the black market, the government might as well legalize it and earn revenues.

The federal government’s proposal is to impose a minimum $1 per gram tax. Tax revenues could be as much as $1 billion per year, according to Bill Blair, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, and head of the federal-provincial task force that created a plan for the legalization of cannabis.

Tax revenues will be divided between the federal and provincial/territorial governments. Whether it will be a 50-50 share, or higher for provincial governments, has not been confirmed.

Huge impact on youth

The legalization of the recreational use of marijuana in Canada will have a huge impact not only on the youth, but also in the workplace. In anticipation of the legalization of recreational marijuana, the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources (CPHR) Manitoba, tackled the issue during its HR & Leadership Conference 2017.

CPHR is organizing a similar session in its upcoming 2018 HR Legislative Review slated on May 2. Issues to be discussed include marijuana use vis-à-vis occupational safety and health, duty to accommodate, workplace policies, and drug testing.


In Canada, workplace safety is paramount among companies. All provinces and territories enforce occupational health and safety legislations which outline the general rights and responsibilities of employers and employees. Fostering a culture of safety in the workplace is a must-do for all companies.

Basic rights

Employees have three basic rights in the workplace: right to refuse unsafe work; right to participate in the workplace health and safety activities through the health and safety committee; and right to know and be informed about actual and potential dangers in the workplace.

In balancing cannabis usage vis-à-vis workplace safety, can employers impose a zero-tolerance cannabis policy? Not necessarily. Employers and service providers must comply with the Canadian Human Rights Act, which defines dependence on drugs or alcohol (substance dependence) as a disability.

Employers must accommodate or adjust rules, policies, and practices to enable employees to participate and not be subjected to discrimination on the grounds of disability. When an employee is diagnosed with substance dependence, s/he has the right to be accommodated by his/her employer. The employer should inquire if the employee is able to perform the essential duties of the job and thereafter provide the kind of accommodation the employee might need.

How can human resource professionals approach the fine line between accommodation and safety in relation to the legalization of recreational marijuana?

As companies must adhere to smoke-free and scent-free workplaces, cannabis prescription does not give an employee license to smoke in the workplace.

However, if cannabis comes in forms other than cigarettes, say in candy form or food, how would employers know that their employees are using cannabis in the workplace?

In the workplace

If employees have a medical prescription for cannabis, will they be allowed to use it in the workplace to prevent possible seizures, for instance? If employers will accommodate employees with substance abuse (including marijuana addiction), how can they equally ensure workplace safety for other employees?

Even if work performances are impacted by cannabis use, employers cannot arbitrarily impose progressive discipline but must resort to accommodating the employee, unless the employee presents a danger to other employees.

Clearly, companies need to prepare policies and regulations in anticipation of the legalization of recreational marijuana in the summer. Human resource managers will have their hands full in approaching cannabis usage as a disability that needs accommodation.

Motor vehicle accidents, lung cancer, and negative mental health outcomes, are just a few of the possible public health implications due to cannabis usage.

But all these arguments are water under the bridge for the legalization of recreational marijuana is happening soon. The only thing employers can do is to prepare for its impact and ramifications in the workplace.



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TAGS: Bill C-45 or the Cannabis Act, cannabis in workplace, Chartered Professionals in Human Resources (CPHR), marijuana legalization Canada, medical marijuana, Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, recreational marijuana
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