Make pot rules for employees clear and fair, urges Sask. chamber of commerce

As pot legalization looms, it’s a smart idea for businesses to have clear policies for employees about marijuana usage, according to the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce.

Drug testing to identify marijuana use remains a murky issue

With impending pot legalization, businesses should be thinking about the rules they have in place for drug and alcohol usage, and communicating those to employees, says the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

As pot legalization looms, it's a smart idea for businesses to have clear policies for employees about marijuana usage, according to the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce.  

"The real concerns are safety and fairness," said the chamber's CEO, Steve McLellan.

Employers have to make sure workplaces and employees are safe, he said, but they also should make sure employees know what's expected of them once marijuana is legal.

"Once it is legal, and they do consume, at what point can they return to work? At what level in their system is it still OK to show up to work and to do the work you did the week before?"

Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce CEO Steve McLellan says he believes most businesses and employees will use common sense when thinking and talking about marijuana usage. (CBC News)

Business leaders says legalization poses the greatest risk to heavy industries, like construction and mining, where safety is paramount.

Companies like Cameco and Nutrien say they have reminded employees that when they show up to work they should be fit for duty and not impaired by drugs or alcohol.

But pot legalization can throw a wrench into drug testing policies—​marijuana can stay in the system for much longer than alcohol.

"If you had an accident with a bobcat, and then you were tested, it's very difficult to tell exactly how soon before the accident— how recently— you consumed," McLellan said.

"That's going to be a challenge. So this is evolving. But I think most business, and most employees, will use common sense."

'Err on the side of safety'

Having clear, comprehensive policies about marijuana use and impairment is a first step for industry groups, agreed Mark Cooper, president and CEO of Saskatchewan Construction Association.

But the next steps should focus on building and maintaining a culture of safety, he said.

"Err on the side of safety — if you think somebody's impaired, remove them from the job site, and deal with the consequences of that if they happen to not be impaired," he said.

Mark Cooper, president and CEO of the Saskatchewan Construction Association, says it's important for construction businesses to have a clear and comprehensive policy around marijuana consumption. (CBC News)

Passing substance tests

Companies like Cameco say employees and contractors may face substance tests as a condition of employment or before entering the job site. Cameco says it has told its employees that traces of marijuana use may linger in their system and to be aware they may not be able to use pot on personal time and still pass a substance test.

Cooper said companies have to make their own determination as to what is reasonable.

"The issue is going to be what constitutes acceptable levels of marijuana in your system," Cooper said, adding this will have to be established by the legislature and by case law.

Cooper and McLellan both say in the long run, likely nothing will change in people's behaviour following marijuana legalization. But they know there could be some shorter-term impacts once the drug is legal on Oct. 17.

"The bottom line is of the morning of the 18th, you're going to have some employees across this province who are going to come with a different grin to work than they did before," said McLellan.

"Let's be ready for them."

with files from Stephanie Taylor