Railroads re-write drug policies for workers in light of cannabis legalization

As of Feb. 1, Go Train drivers in southern Ontario are forbidden from ever consuming cannabis, but that's not the case for their northern counterparts.

CP, CN, VIA and Ontario Northland all have 'no tolerance policies'

VIA Rail says it modified its drug and alcohol policy after the legalization of cannabis. It prohibits employees from taking mood-altering substances eight hours before their shift. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

As of Feb. 1, Go Train drivers in southern Ontario are forbidden from ever consuming cannabis, but that's not the case for their northern Ontario counterparts.

However, a union leader representing workers at CP, CN and VIA Rail says the recent changes to their drug and alcohol policies all essentially prohibit railroaders from using marijuana, even if it isn't explicitly stated.

Teamsters Rail Conference Canada President Lyndon Isaak says all three railroads have adjusted their policies in light of the legalization of cannabis in October. 

"At one time the focus was only on degree of impairment and now it's focused on the remnants," he says. 

"Most of our membership is on call 24-7 and they never have enough time off to assure the company or be assured themselves there are no remnants if they chose to use cannabis."

Issak says some of his members do feel that's "unfair" but he doesn't foresee it changing until there is way to measure your level of impairment after consuming cannabis, the way there is for alcohol.

CBC asked the railroads themselves to discuss their policies.

CP Rail told CBC that it has adjusted its drug and alcohol policy following cannabis legalization in October, but did not reveal what those changes are. (CBC)

There was no response from CN Rail.

CP Rail would only say that "operating safely is a core foundation of CP. Our commitment is to protect our people, customers, communities in which we operate, the environment and our assets. CP is also committed to a healthy and safe workplace" and that the company's drug and alcohol policy was revised to "continue to support these commitments."

VIA Rail says the company has a zero-tolerance policy for drug and alcohol impairment for employees with safety-sensitive or safety-critical jobs, who are required to divulge if they've consumed "mood-altering substances" within eight hours of the start of their workday.

Ontario Northland revised its drug and alcohol policy this month to reflect the legalization of cannabis, but it still has a zero tolerance policy for employees to be impaired by drugs or alcohol. (CBC)

Ontario Northland re-wrote its drug and alcohol policy this month to better reflect the legalization of cannabis.

But communications manager Renee Baker says the rules remain the same for bus drivers, train operators and other employees.

"It just basically states there is zero tolerance for anyone under the influence of drugs or alcohol on our property, facilities, using our equipment or vehicles," she says.

"There's no outright off-duty ban, but employees are responsible for self-evaluating their fitness for duty."

About the Author

Erik White


Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to


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