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What Do Employers Need to Know About Cannabis Edibles in the Workplace?

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On October 17, 2019, changes were made to the Cannabis Act by way of regulations dealing with edible cannabis, cannabis extracts and cannabis topicals. These changes were made approximately one year after recreational cannabis became legal in Canada. The products should hit the shelves in the coming months just in time for holiday parties. Employers need to make sure that they are prepared.

Employers have an obligation under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act to ensure they maintain a safe workplace.  They should be aware that the effects of impairment through the consumption of edibles last several hours longer than vaping or smoking. It also takes longer to feel the effects of edibles. Since the effects do not kick in right away, it can be tempting for users to consume even more shortly after the first dose.  If an employee consumes edibles hours before starting their shift, they may be impaired when they show up to work.

Employees who consume edibles may have slower reaction times, reduced ability to focus and may become sleepy. Slowed reaction times can impact an employee’s ability to operate machinery or a motor vehicle. These hazards will pose challenges for safety-sensitive workplaces.

It can also be difficult for an employer to know if an employee brought edibles into the workplace. Edibles are cannabis-based food products that resemble other common treats you would often see in a workplace lunchroom such as brownies, candies or cookies.

Now that these cannabis-based products have become legal, employers should review their existing policies as they may need to be updated. Employees need to be trained on new workplace policies to understand what will and will not be tolerated in the workplace.  The policies may cover topics such as workplace safety issues, productivity, absenteeism, accommodation, and consumption of edibles during lunch hours or breaks. Managers and supervisors need to be trained to recognize signs of impairment in the workplace and how to address issues surrounding substance impairment.

Employees need to know that while cannabis may be legal in Canada, it can lead to their termination in the workplace.  Being impaired in the performance of your job duties, through consumption of a legal substance, is still impairment and can lead to disciplinary action. There is still zero tolerance for drug and alcohol impairment for employees driving commercial vehicles, which include those that require a class A to F licence, a vehicle requiring a Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration (CVOR) or a road-building machine.  It is also important to note that the Criminal Code still makes impairment while driving a serious offence, regardless of whether the impairment is caused by alcohol or cannabis.

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Haig DeRusha, DeRusha Law Firm