Pubdate: Mon, 10 Mar 2014
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2014 The Toronto Star
Contact:  http://www.thestar.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/456
Author: Sheryl Smolkin

AS POT LAWS CHANGE, WORKPLACES MUST COPE

More of your co-workers may soon be regular marijuana users as the 
law about how people get the drug for health reasons is eased.

As of April 1, Canadians who need the drug to control pain will need 
only a doctor's prescription, instead of a licence from Health 
Canada. What this will eventually mean, according to Health Canada, 
is that the country's legal marijuana supply industry could grow 
10-fold in the next decade. That would add as many as 450,000 medical 
marijuana users.

The big issue for the workplace is that until now so few people had 
medical marijuana licences that companies could have zero tolerance 
policies that included the use of marijuana at work.

But that will change as the numbers legally prescribed the drug 
increase. So, if an employee is impaired as a result of taking the 
drug, he must be treated like anyone else with a disability.

Marijuana is used to reduce nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy 
patients and people with AIDS. It can also help alleviate pain and 
muscle spasticity.

Health Canada's average recommended daily dose for pain control is 
three to six joints or a similar amount taken orally. That means that 
to get their daily fix, employees may need to duck out for a toke or 
two during the work day.

Lawyer Patrizia Piccolo of Rubin Thomlinson LLP says authorized users 
of medical marijuana do not have to tell their employer they're 
taking the drug.

"It's like any other medically prescribed painkiller like Tylenol 3. 
It's legal," she says.

The response by a company could be as simple as allowing more 
frequent breaks and providing a place where the employees can light 
up. While there are laws prohibiting smoking tobacco at or near the 
workplace, these rules do not extend to the use of medical marijuana.

Employers may also have to accommodate employees in positions where 
possible impairment is an issue, by finding other suitable work for them.

However, proving that an employee using medical marijuana is a safety 
risk can be a challenge for employers. Unlike in the United States, 
routine workplace drug and alcohol testing is not permitted in Canada 
because courts and tribunals have ruled that tests revealing drug use 
are not necessarily an accurate measure of impairment.

"You can only justify drug or alcohol testing if there is a good 
reason to believe the person is abusing drugs. This would not 
typically be the case in the use of medical marijuana," Piccolo says.

Employers can develop a policy that puts limitations on the drug's 
use in the workplace.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police's policy prohibits medical 
marijuana while an officer is in uniform.

So, New Brunswick Cpl. Ron Francis who uses marijuana to relieve 
symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder was ordered to turn in his 
uniform last year.

In a recent Canadian Employment Law Today article, Calgary lawyer Tim 
Mitchell discusses other things that can be included in company drug 
policies. "Employers can stipulate that employees cannot come to work 
impaired; they cannot share their medical marijuana with other 
employees; and, that unexcused absences or late arrivals will not be 
tolerated," he says.

Mitchell also foresees future requests from employees to include 
coverage for medical marijuana under health care plans and workers' 
compensation.

However, the B.C. Supreme Court recently refused a request for 
compensation under the old rules.

Since 2001, medical marijuana users have been permitted to either 
grow their own marijuana, authorize someone else to grow it for them, 
or purchase the drug from Health Canada for $5 per gram.

Effective April 1, the only legal source of medical marijuana will be 
licensed commercial producers who can set their own prices. The 
Medicinal Cannabis Patients' Alliance of Canada opposes the new rules 
for growing and distributing medical marijuana because it anticipates 
the cost of a regular supply of the drug will become prohibitive for 
many people.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom