A sold-out conference in Calgary is helping businesses learn more about the impacts of cannabis in the workplace and what employers need to know before it's legalized next year.

Many employers are scrambling to get a better understanding of cannabis and how to deal with growing numbers of employees licensed to use it medically, as well as the implications of legalization next year.

The conference is hosted by Cannabis At Work — an HR-focussed company established two years ago to help businesses navigate Canada's marijuana boom and manage marijuana use in the workplace.

"We do a lot of education about cannabis legalization and cannabis as a medicine, but all in the context of developing workplace strategies to manage cannabis use by an employee who might have a prescription, or looking ahead to recreational legalization and how that's going to impact workplaces," said CEO Alison McMahon.

Monday's topics included demystifying cannabis, what the plant is used for and how effective it is as a medicine, as well as the different compounds in cannabis and how they affect people.

The program explained the difference between THC and CBD cannabis. CBD is the type used to treat many conditions without any psychoactive effects, which many employers in the room weren't aware of.

The program also covered the different employer and employee obligations when it comes to medical use in the workplace, as well as measuring impairment effectively.

Workplace balance

There were companies at the event who specialize in occupational testing and what works best when it comes to testing for cannabis impairment.

"For employers managing somebody with a medical prescription, they have to balance their duty to accommodate somebody's medical disability with their duty to maintain a safe workplace," said McMahon.

McMahon says employers are starting to think about cannabis more progressively and want to learn more so they can update their company policies.

"It's very interesting and it's giving us an opportunity to take a look at what companies are doing and what employers need to look at to be on par with standards across the country," said Wes La Porte, a safety advisor with NuVista Energy.

Wes Laport, a safety advisor with NuVista Energy.

Wes La Porte, a safety advisor with NuVista Energy, says employers are looking to develop fair policies and procedures. (CBC)

La Porte says events like this one can help employers develop policies and procedures that are fair.

"I completely understand that public safety is on everyone's mind. If you're in a position that you're operating heavy machinery, it's very important for your senses to be intact," said Dr. Sana-Ara Ahmed, a pain specialist and medical cannabis expert who was presenting at the conference.

Ahmed says there are better ways to test for cannabis impairment that need to be explored more.

Dr. Sana-Aara Ahmed, a pain specialist and medical cannabis expert

Dr. Sana-Ara Ahmed, a pain specialist and medical cannabis expert, says different ways to test for cannabis impairment in the workplace need to be explored. (CBC)

"At the same time, if your employer is allowing you to have Percocet or morphine, which are going to alter you — if not even more — there needs to be a conversation about what the goal is," she said.

"Are we looking at cognitive function or a urine test? Because if we're looking at cognitive function, there are other ways to measure that. I believe today that conversation is taking place."

The Cannabis At Work conference continues on Tuesday.