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Guest Blog: Medical Marijuana in Canada

By Aaron Spodek, Co-Founder, President & CEO, Vector Medical Corporation

When you hear the word marijuana, do you think of Cheech and Chong, Bob Marley, and rock concerts? If so, I’m guessing your brain triggers similar associations when you hear the term medical marijuana. Don’t worry, it’s not even something we do consciously; the associations are just so deeply engrained in our society, as a result of media representation and pop culture, that it’s almost impossible to avoid.

Unless, that is, you are following what’s unfolding in Canada’s booming medical marijuana industry. Then your associations are more likely to be related to doctors, lawyers, investors, government, controversy, patients, cancer, chronic pain, healing, harm, miracles, disasters, etc…

Challenges in Canada’s Medical Marijuana “Industry”

Unfortunately, Canada’s medical marijuana industry has become a bit of a gong show:

  • Patients are scrambling for doctors who will authorize their use of medical marijuana.
  • Government-approved marijuana growing facilities (Licenced Producers) are scrambling for investors to fund their operations.
  • Investors are scrambling for doctors who are willing to write authorization documents for prospective patients, to increase the output of the Licenced Producers in which they have financial interests.
  • Provincial and Federal physicians’ colleges and associations are scrambling for control – issuing strong “warnings” and in some cases doing everything short of outright forbidding medical practice in this area.
  • Doctors interested in authorizing medical marijuana treatment for their patients are scrambling for guidance on how to practice responsibly.

Canada’s Medical Marijuana Doctors

Some, however, are not scrambling at all. A growing number of “brave” physicians are taking the bull by the horns and jumping feet first into this new and fascinating field. Now the way that I see it, there are two types of medical marijuana doctors – the “scientists” and the “patient advocates.” Not that the two are mutually exclusive categories, but when speaking to a medical marijuana physician it is immediately apparent which category he or she fits into. “Patient advocates” tend to focus on the patient’s right to use marijuana as a viable treatment option for a wide array of applicable health issues. “Scientists” focus more on the therapeutic outcomes and benefits of medicinal cannabinoids in situations where mainstream pharmacological treatments are ineffective or poorly tolerated.

Of all the stakeholders in today’s medical marijuana industry, these “scientists” seem to be the most interested in advancing medicinal cannabinoid therapies. They are honing in on the therapeutic efficacy of specific strains, dosing / titration protocols, monitoring schedules, and other key factors that are necessary for practicing responsible medicine in this area. They are cautious, meticulous, and tend to deny their patients medical authorization to use cannabis more often than they approve it. They are also extremely concerned about  the growing number of “questionable” authorizations of medical marijuana flooding Canadian society and the negative impact this has on the legitimacy of cannabis treatment.

However, the “patient advocates” are not the root cause of this flood. While they are more liberal about their approach to authorizing medical marijuana, they are knowledgeable and careful about considering contraindications. The real culprits are the “naïve” physicians who have not taken the time to learn best-practices in cannabinoid therapy prior to authorizing patient use. This has resulted in the emergence of some pretty serious social issues.

Considerations for Employers

If you are an employer in a safety sensitive industry, you’ll likely agree that someone currently in or returning to a safety-sensitive job could be an example of a patient who has received “questionable” authorization for the use of medical marijuana.

So, why are individuals with safety sensitive jobs receiving medical authorization to use marijuana? Here are some common reasons:

  1. The doctor has no idea that the individual works in a safety sensitive job, because the doctor never asked.
  2. The doctor has instructed the individual to disclose their situation to their employer, but the employee failed to do so.
  3. The doctor is a “patient advocate” and believes that it is the employer’s implicit responsibility to accommodate the individual.
  4. The doctor believes that the individual does not experience euphoria (i.e. getting high) and is therefore fit for safety sensitive duties.
  5. The employee has convinced their doctor that marijuana is an appropriate treatment (tail wagging the dog).

As an employer there are some questions you need to be asking yourself in response to the above scenarios:

  1. What do I do when an employee who has medical authorization to use marijuana gets a positive drug test for THC?
  2. Can I require all of my employees in safety sensitive positions to disclose if they are using medical marijuana?
  3. Is it my implicit responsibility to accommodate the employee?
  4. Can anyone prove whether or not the employee is fit for safety sensitive duties?
  5. Do I have the right to question the physician’s decision to authorize marijuana treatment?

The answer to all of these questions is that there are no clear cut or easy answers. Human rights and workplace safety considerations are highly complex and can have serious implications for employers if not handled carefully. That is why it is essential to seek expert advice.

Employment law experts can guide employers on their responsibilities vis a vis employee human rights. Occupational medicine specialists can guide employers on how to address workplace safety and accommodation issues. Medical marijuana physicians, specifically the “scientists” referenced above, can determine if marijuana is the employee’s most appropriate treatment option, and if not, suggest alternative therapies that are less likely to pose workplace safety risks.

Canada’s medical marijuana industry is growing at an alarming pace, increasing the number of medical marijuana users who are actively employed. Employers, particularly those in safety sensitive industries, need to take proactive steps and prepare themselves for the inevitable scenarios referenced above.

To set up a free 30-minute consultation to explore how Driver Check’s and Vector’s team of experts can assist you in dealing with medical marijuana in your safety sensitive workplace, contact Connor Page, DriverCheck’s Business Development Manager at connorp@drivercheck.ca or 1-800-463-4310 x. 251.