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Everything Employers Ought to Know About Medical Marijuana

Did you know the federal government will soon give doctors unilateral authority to decide who can buy medical marijuana in Canada? Do you understand how this could impact the way your workplace deals with the drug’s use? If you’re like most organizations, you have some insight but could benefit from more facts and from knowing the implications. This post should provide you with just the information you need.

By March of next year, medical marijuana users will no longer need a Health Canada permit to qualify for the drug, nor will they have to provide the government with information on their health condition. Doctors (and possibly nurse practitioners or other health care providers, depending on the province) will decide on a case by case basis who is eligible and the appropriate dose.

Medical marijuana is a concern for workplaces because it has not been clinically tested. Research shows it can impact a person’s driving skills and jeopardize safety, but there is less scientific evidence on the risks of different levels of marijuana use. That’s why employers should tread carefully when dealing with an employee whose marijuana use is supported by their doctor.

Implications for DOT regulated employers

The changes to medical marijuana rules will have no impact on DOT-regulated employers and workers. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s drug and alcohol testing regulations stipulate that medical marijuana is not a valid medical explanation for a transportation employee’s positive drug test result.

Implications for workplace employers

Although the changes to Canada’s medical marijuana program won’t impact how non-regulated employers deal with issues around medications (employers must still abide by human rights legislation and the duty to accommodate), there are concerns that allowing doctors and nurse practitioners to authorize medical marijuana without having to adhere to a clearly defined list of qualifying medical conditions could lead to more marijuana use by more workers on the job site.

In fact, the government-proposed basic authorization form the doctor or nurse is required to fill out doesn’t ask for any information on the patient’s condition.

Provincial medical licensing bodies have not announced their positions nor given guidance on this, although it is our understanding that certain licensing bodies are reviewing it.

In the meantime, employers should re-examine their own company policies, ensuring that medical marijuana is treated as a potentially intoxicating medication (no different than many other drugs for which actual prescriptions are written).

To determine how to treat cases involving medical marijuana use, employers should seek out guidance from knowledgeable and experienced physicians and specialists on an employee-by-employee basis until they develop general guidelines around what constitutes safe use versus impairment.

MRO oversight

As with other prescription medications, MROs will need to be extra cautious when an employee tests positive for medical marijuana.

Even if a physician or nurse authorizes its use, your MRO must ask the employer to consider the potential safety risks associated with it.

DriverCheck’s MROs always raise safety sensitive issues with our clients (where applicable). Should a donor have a valid explanation for the use of a drug (in the case of medical marijuana, proof of an endorsement from their doctor), a positive lab test will be reported as MRO negative (unless your company policy states otherwise). However, an MRO negative determination does not necessarily mean it is safe for the employee to work in a safety-sensitive position.

Because it is difficult to measure individual sensitivities to the drug, a physician knowledgeable about occupational health who also understands the potential impact of medical marijuana on workplace safety should evaluate the employee to determine if he or she can perform their job safely while taking the drug. The worker’s doctor should also sign off on this evaluation.

Employers should advise employees and candidates that such medical opinions will be required prior to the worker’s taking on safety sensitive work.

Duty to accommodate

Human rights legislation dictates that employers cannot discriminate against an employee or applicant who has a disability.

If your worker cannot perform their job safely given the medication they are using, there is still a duty to accommodate up to undue hardship.

Your company may be required to move the employee to a position that is not safety-sensitive, or, if that is not possible, place the employee on leave until they can safely return to work.

If modified work is appropriate, employers should reserve the right to confirm the nature and duration of the work restrictions with the worker’s physician.

We also recommend obtaining a legal opinion on all of the above.

Do you have any questions about medical marijuana? Let us know in the comments or get in touch with us as we’d be happy to discuss how medical marijuana could impact your workforce!