Employers seek safeguards against pot-related risks in workplace

As the bill to legalize cannabis bounces around Parliament Hill, some industries want legislation to ensure the drug won't be a danger in the workplace.

As bill to legalize cannabis is debated in Ottawa, industry sees workplace use as possible danger

As the bill to legalize cannabis bounces around Parliament Hill, some industries want legislation to ensure the drug won't be a danger in the workplace.

"Certainly, it's a substance that is very dangerous from the perspective of safety-sensitive positions," Chris MacDonald, director of government relations for J.D. Irving Ltd., said Wednesday.

"You certainly don't want folks, like pilots and train conductors, you know, bus drivers and those folks, using this substance and working."

MacDonald is part of a national group of employers working on the issue.

Chris MacDonald is the director of government relations for JD Irving, Limited. He's been part of a national industry group of employers working on the issue of cannabis and the workplace. Ian Jack is managing director of communications and government relations for CAA. 15:54

MacDonald said the group would like legislation that addresses use of cannabis by truck drivers, crane operators, people working in mills and the oil and gas sector, or in any job where impairment could create a safety risk.

"We want a safe workplace, we want the public to be safe, we want our communities to be safe and we want to do everything we can to ensure that safety," MacDonald told Information Morning Saint John.

There are not yet enough checks and balances to address workplace safety and cannabis, he said, although more people may be using cannabis on the job when the substance is legal.

Safeguards needed

It's not clear exactly when recreational use will be allowed in Canada. The House of Commons is now considering and, in some cases, rejecting the 46 amendments the Senate proposed to Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act . Eventually, the bill will have to return to the Senate.

MacDonald said the industry group would like to see safeguards regarding workplace safety and cannabis use, such as mandatory random testing.

"The government's going to do what the government's going to do and we respect that," he said of legalization. "This is about how do we put the safeguards in place."

Testing is only one element of concern, he said.

"We're tremendous believers in education and training. That's a big part of this that will never be replaced."

Ian Jack, managing director of communications and government relations for the Canadian Automobile Association, also said more education is needed to prevent people from using cannabis and driving.

Studying effects on driving

The CAA is sponsoring a study of how driver performance is affected by weed.

The "Just don't do it" message against driving while impaired hasn't worked in the past and won't work now either, Jack said.

Having one or two glasses of wine with dinner has become an acceptable social norm, but there hasn't been a lot of research into the cannabis equivalent of two glasses of wine.

"The problem is there hasn't been a lot of science a lot of work done, because it's been an illegal substance, into what is the equivalent," Jack said.

Some employers say more legislation and education are needed to protect workplace safety when cannabis is legal. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

"What we don't have is what you could call a 'potilyzer,' you know, the equivalent of the breathalyzer," he said.  

Jack said police will be authorized to use a swab device that will give a positive or negative reading for cannabis — a yes or no, but that's it.

"That's like the breathalyzer saying whether you've had a drink or not over the past six hours — that's not the same thing as being impaired, of course."

He said he doesn't believe there will be carnage on the streets when cannabis is legalized, but it's important people, particularly young people, are properly educated.

"We don't think there's going to be reefer madness striking in Saint John or anywhere else in the country post-legalization, but we do think that there will be people experimenting with the substance."

The World Cannabis Congress in Saint John was a three-day event for stakeholders in the cannabis industry. The event was sponsored by the digital media company Civilized. 

About the Author

Sarah Morin

Reporter

Sarah Morin is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. Story tip? sarah.morin@cbc.ca

With files from Information Morning Saint John