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Canada’s highest court expands medical marijuana definition, creating potential issues for safety sensitive workplaces

June 11, 2015 – Canada’s highest court has ruled that medical marijuana patients can now consume marijuana in edible form as well as use other extracts and derivatives.

The Supreme Court of Canada found the current restriction to smoking marijuana in its “dried” form violates a person’s right to liberty and security. Current federal health regulations state that any other form can lead to drug possession charges under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The impacts of this ruling on safety sensitive workplaces will depend on what each employer’s alcohol and drug policy states about the use of medical marijuana. We foresee two potential issues:

  1. If medical marijuana is allowed in an edible form and if an employer decides to allow a worker to use medical marijuana in the workplace, the lunchbox becomes a security issue. Controlling medicinal joints alone would have been a significant security problem; now cookies and brownies, etc. could be added to the mix.
  1. Scientific/medical literature suggests smoked cannabinoids are absorbed more quickly than cannabinoids that are swallowed. This means that although the peak concentration of cannabinoids in the body may not be as high when compared to smoked cannabis, impairment concentration levels still occur. Additionally, since the absorption of cannabinoids takes longer than that which occurs with smoking, it means the length of time of impairment can also be longer compared to smoking.   This is why the College of Family Physicians of Canada recommended that drivers not operate motor vehicles for 4 hours after smoking marijuana, 6 hours after ingesting marijuana, or 8 hours if euphoria is experienced when consuming marijuana in any manner. This issue is most important to consider when employers try to plan their duty roster relating to safety sensitive positions.

It is important to remember that the standards and recommendations on what constitutes impairment by marijuana are evolving as would be expected in any arena where pioneering is occurring. In light of this fact, employers may need to arrange (for legal purposes) independent medical evaluations of workers to determine if they are fit and safe to perform essential safety sensitive duties. Recognizing this need, DriverCheck has developed a Medicinal Marijuana@Work program for employers who want to take that additional step to ensure health and safety and minimize legal risk.