The Strait Area Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Community Sector Council of Nova Scotia, hosted an open Q&A cannabis conversation providing information and education about the legalization of cannabis in Canada. The conversation featured a group of panelists pictured (from the left) are: Dave DiPersio, senior VP and chief services officer, Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation; Bryna Hatt, lawyer, Fraser Hatt Law; John MacMillan, occupational health and safety division, Nova Scotia Labour and Advanced Education; and Sarah Boudreau, pharmacist, MacKeigan’s Pharmacy.

PORT HAWKESBURY: The social stigma behind cannabis has seen a shift within the past few years, and now with cannabis legalized, business owners and operators are uncertain as to what this means for both employers and employees.

The Strait Area Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Community Sector Council of Nova Scotia, hosted an open Q&A cannabis conversation providing information and education about the legalization of cannabis in Canada, including the implications it has on local businesses and steps a business can take to be compliant.

The event, which was attended by more than 30 eager members, was one of the year’s highest attended sessions. Questions were answered by a group of panelists including; Bryna Hatt, lawyer, Fraser Hatt Law; Sarah Boudreau, pharmacist, MacKeigan’s Pharmacy; John MacMillan, occupational health and safety division, Nova Scotia Labour and Advanced Education; and Dave DiPersio, senior VP and chief services officer, Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation.

MacMillan said the occupational health and safety’s view on the cannabis conversation is that of impairment, and employers are finding themselves wanting to act.

“Our best starting point for employers is assessing your workplace, to find where hazards around impairment may come in,” he said. “Do a risk assessment of your work, what do you do, and where could impairment really cause a problem for you.”

If there is suspicion of cannabis being used in the workplace, Hatt said the first step is simply sparking the cannabis conversation around the level of impairment, and the employer’s response to it.

MacMillan would question anyone who thinks cannabis is any worse than pharmaceutical drugs or alcohol.

“I would argue pharmaceutical and opioids are much dire from a safety-sensitive standpoint.”

The question at hand is the impairment, the reason for that impairment and how the employer needs to respond, as Hatt advised the consumption of cannabis would fall under two distinct categories; disciplinary or accommodation, because it’s either an addiction or there’s a medical need.

“You certainly have people in your workplace now, that have prescriptions from everything from antibiotics to painkillers, that on some level, could be impairing and cannabis would be no different,” she said. “The starting point for employers is when you know there is a medical issue for marijuana usage, substantiate how it’s needed, how often it’s needed, get the information around the usage, then look at the type of position they have and see if you can accommodate them; but you cannot ask why.”

Hatt highlighted employers must go through the exercise of looking at accommodation options exhaustively, because if they don’t – those with a medical need can assert their rights.

“And the threshold for someone to say ‘I cannot accommodate you’ is incredibly high – it’s classified as undue hardship,” she said. “In the course of that conversation if there is not an issue raised with a disability, illness, or addiction, then you’re looking at it from a disciplinary viewpoint.”

MacMillan said if someone is impaired at the workplace, regardless of the circumstances, the duty is upon the employee to have that communication.

“We can’t throw everything on the employer and I think that’s what everybody’s concerned about.”

MacMillan advised businesses need to sit down as an organization and discuss their policy company-wide, and from an employer/employee perspective, it’s about training, communication, policy, and procedures.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for you to go back to your workplaces and take action right now about what you’re doing administratively internally,” he said. “It’s about you as an organization how you’re going to deal with this, as an employer what are you doing – don’t think the system you have right now is perfect, it probably isn’t.”

Most workplaces have a drug and alcohol policy, the majority of those policies read you cannot drink nor do illegal drugs at work, which now acts as a linchpin – as cannabis is no longer illegal.

“So you have to emend your policy to include no alcohol, no drugs legal or illegal, prescription or non-prescription, you need to outline the process as to who they go see, what will happen when they breach,” Hatt said. “Once you make those policy changes you have to fully communicate that this is the new working order in the workplace.”

Hatt said when it comes to screening potential employees for cannabis, Nova Scotia doesn’t have the same stance as the zero-tolerance policies in the Albertan oil patch, even though they may be doing similar if not the same work.

“The general law on drug testing across the board is if you have a safety-sensitive position you can do drug testing for post-incident or a near miss, if you can do it under reasonable suspicion,” she said. “You cannot by-in-large do random testing or pre-employment testing. You cannot drug test someone because you want to.”

She said if you don’t have a drug testing policy in place, you cannot by common law drug test.

When enforcing any sort of policy about cannabis, MacMillan said it’s important to enforce a policy uniformly across the board as this isn’t about nailing employees it’s about employers doing their job to keep their workplace and employers safe.

Businesses looking for material to help with emending or creating a cannabis policy of their own, information can be found at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Web site: https://www.ccohs.ca/products/courses/impairment/ or the Nova Scotia’s Labour and Advanced Education Web site: https://novascotia.ca/lae/healthandsafety/cannabisimpairment.asp.