Windsor

Legal marijuana increases liability for alcohol servers, owners worry

Servers and bartenders now have one more responsibility on their plate — detecting cannabis impairment before letting the booze flow. But there's a new concern about increased liability for waiters now that recreational marijuana is legal in Canada.

Many alcohol training programs across Canada haven't been updated to include legal cannabis

Servers and bartenders now have one more responsibility on their plates — detecting cannabis impairment before letting the booze flow. Cara Kennedy, owner of Walkerville Tavern in Windsor, Ont., says determining how much pot a customer has smoked is difficult. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Servers and bartenders have one more responsibility on their plate now that recreational marijuana is legal in Canada — detecting cannabis impairment before letting the booze flow.

There's a new legal concern that some say is cropping up, about weed adding an extra layer of liability for those who serve suds.

Adding to that worry among waiters is the fact many alcohol certification programs across Canada haven't been updated to reflect that recreational marijuana is now legal.

"It's concerning for me as a bar owner because you don't know how much they've ingested," said Cara Kennedy, owner of the Walkerville Tavern in Windsor, Ont.

Watch as Cara Kennedy describes why she feels legal cannabis opens her up to more liability:

Legal weed is making alcohol servers more concerned about liability 0:51

For Kennedy, keeping tabs on how much alcohol her customers drink isn't difficult in her small tavern. Throw legal marijuana into the mix and that's where things get tricky.

"What's to stop them from maybe not having as much to drink as they normally do, but they're going to smoke a joint before they leave or on their way home," she said. "That's the scary part."

Public health agencies warn mixing alcohol and marijuana can increase impairment, and even the odds of impaired driving. (Jason Viau/CBC)

There can be some unintended consequences when mixing the substances. Public health agencies warn it could increase impairment, and even the odds of impaired driving. 

"This is just making things all the more challenging for people who work in the hospitality industry," said Greg Monforton. "It just adds another layer of complexity to the mix."

Watch personal injury lawyer Greg Monforton describe why the job of a bartender just got riskier:

A personal injury lawyer believes the lack of updated alcohol training programs in Canada to include legal weed doesn't absolve establishments of liability 0:44

Legal weed has made being a bartender even riskier, Monforton said, especially since many alcohol training programs haven't been updated to include signs of cannabis impairment and risks associated with the drug.

British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island are among the few jurisdictions that have updated the curriculum.

"How cannabis reacts in the body, that's being included," said Carol Lumb, director of the Saskatchewan Tourism Education Council. "We really want everyone to be as safe as possible."

Saskatchewan's four-page update to reflect cannabis legalization has a lot to do with liability for servers, "so we just really want to give people as much information as possible."

Canadians can now carry up to 30 grams of dried cannabis in public. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

However, many other jurisdictions — such as Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories and Nunavut — have not modernized the training.

"For us, we think it's important to educate our servers on signs of intoxication of cannabis," said Richard Anderson, executive director of SmartServe Ontario. "What we're working on currently is to ensure that we provide the best research that we can to our servers."

Many of the alcohol training programs tell CBC News that an update is on their radar. For SmartServe Ontario, Anderson hopes to have the course revised before the province allows the sale of cannabis in private retails stores in April.

What's to stop them from maybe not having as much to drink as they normally do, but they're going to smoke a joint before they leave or on their way home ... That's the scary part.- Cara Kennedy, owner of the Walkerville Tavern in Windsor, Ont.

Manitoba hasn't either — and it doesn't plan to because the province believe cannabis use is already covered when talking about intoxication in general.

Still, it's left some who have taken the course feeling ill-prepared.

"I don't think we're prepared enough to detect people who are already high on marijuana," said Divia Sathi, who recently took the SmartServe program in Ontario. "I feel a little worried, of course, because marijuana was not at all in the course."

Watch some people react after taking an alcohol certification course in Windsor, Ont., that hasn't been updated to include legal pot:

Alcohol training students react after take course that hasn't been updated to include legal cannabis. 0:27

When it comes to recertification for new material, many of provinces and territories don't require people to take it again, even if there's an update.

But for Kennedy and her small number of waiters, she will require them all to be retested with the updated cannabis curriculum. 

"I don't think that the government did their due diligence for us as business owners," said Kennedy. "I think they dropped the ball."

About the Author

Jason Viau is a video journalist, TV host and radio newsreader at CBC Windsor. He was born in North Bay, but has lived in Windsor for most of his life. Since graduating from St. Clair College, he's worked in print, TV and radio. Email him at jason.viau@cbc.ca

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