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Confusion arises over employer rules about cannabis use at work

Cannabis legalization is almost here. Employers are busily preparing rules to regulate cannabis use in their workplaces. Police and other employers whose duties affect public safety are finding it particularly difficult to draft policies for cannabis use that satisfy their employees and their obligations to the public.

Both Air Canada and Calgary-based WestJet Airlines now ban cannabis use for people whose jobs affect customer safety — even when they are off-duty. Alcohol use is only restricted for certain employees for 12 hours before they go on duty.

The affected positions at WestJet and Air Canada include flight and cabin crew members, flight dispatchers, aircraft maintenance engineers and station attendants.

The Calgary Police Service is following a similar abstinence policy. Personnel cannot use cannabis at any time, even on days off and on vacation. The RCMP, the Canadian Armed Forces, and some other police forces allow their members to use marijuana, although Canadian Forces personnel must leave at least eight hours between using cannabis and being on duty.

Those affected by cannabis use bans are likely to challenge the policies in court and before human rights commissions. The Calgary Police Service’s union has already said that it will do so. It will likely take time to determine how long the effects of cannabis on an individual’s judgement and cognitive abilities will last. There is little research about this because marijuana use has been illegal until now.

Roughly one in ten Canadians were cannabis users in the last year. Most workplaces in Canada will be affected by cannabis legalization, and so employers are setting rules for cannabis use in their workplaces.

Employees may find their employers have restricted cannabis use partially or completely to prevent cannabis abuse and ensure workplace safety. Employees who believe that their employer’s new rules are unfair or too draconian should speak to experienced employment law lawyers for assistance as this new area of law develops over time.

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Ridout Barron
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