An Alberta addiction specialist is concerned about what will happen if reefer becomes legal in Canada before adequate marijuana testing is available in the oilpatch.

"We do not yet have a test that can measure impairment, unlike what we have for alcohol. At this point, marijuana testing in the workplace only tests for the presence of the substance," said Dr. Charl Els, a psychiatrist and associate clinical professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of Alberta.

He said the ability to quantify just how impaired someone is would be "the holy grail of marijuana testing" because it would allow oil and gas companies to mitigate risk in the workplace.


The Trudeau government is expected to bring forward legislation in 2017 that would legalize pot in Canada. (Donald Weber/Getty Images)

Oilpatch wants say in law

It's unlikely that a marijuana test that measures impairment levels would be available before 2017, said Els, which is when Ottawa is expected to introduce legislation that would legalize pot.

As the law is being developed, the safety association for the oil and gas industry is ramping up its lobbying.

Last month, Enform sent a six-page letter outlining its concerns over marijuana in the workplace to the federal Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation.

Charl Els

Dr. Charl Els is a psychiatrist, professor and addiction specialist based in Edmonton. (University of Alberta)

The take home message? That pot and the oilpatch don't mix.

In fact the two are "incompatible," and the upcoming marijuana law should outright ban the substance in any "safety-sensitive workplace," wrote Enform CEO Cameron MacGillivray.

"Being at the top of your game in terms of your cognitive and psychomotor abilities is really important to the worker and safety," he told the CBC earlier this week.

Els said the risk is not that workers would smoke a joint while operating heavy and dangerous equipment, but that they would get high before their shift began.

"THC gets absorbed into the fat stores, and it can be released over several hours. So individuals can be impaired even several hours after they've smoked marijuana and even while they are withdrawing."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener