Pubdate: Mon, 12 Jun 2017
Source: Edmonton Sun (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 Canoe Limited Partnership.
Author: Gordon Kent
Page: 10


Increasing popularity of prescription pot highlights a growing issue
for employers

Apprentice ironworker Johnathan Dickson says his union wouldn't send
him out to construction jobs last year while he was using medical marijuana.

While an official with Ironworkers local 720 maintains the situation
is far more complicated than that, Dickson's case illustrates some of
the workplace issues - mainly involving safety - related to the
growing Canadian consumption of prescription pot.

Growing issue

"In talking with our clients, (medical cannabis) is an issue that's
coming up more and more," says Cristina Wendel, an Edmonton employment
and labour lawyer at Dentons, who cited estimates that 500,000
Canadians will be using the drug for health reasons by 2024.

"It's a hot topic these days, and people want to hear about

Dickson, 28, was supposed to work as an apprentice on a project near
Edmonton in March 2016, but says a sniffer dog detected traces of
marijuana on his workbag during first-day orientation and he failed a
drug test.

The Ironworkers sent him for treatment. He admits he didn't have a
cannabisauthorization card, which he obtained a short time later and,
although in the past he had abused alcohol and cocaine, he says he
stopped taking them the previous year.

A doctor said he should stop consuming cannabis for fear of a relapse.
The union told him that under workplace safety protocols he needed
addiction treatment, and wouldn't be dispatched to jobs as long as he
was consuming medical marijuana.

He eventually found work at energy-industry construction projects
through another union, but says a "zero tolerance" approach is unfair
for people using the drug for medical rather than recreational reasons.

"Why should I get off my prescription that's beneficial to me? I'm not
putting anyone in danger," said Dickson, who averaged about two grams
of oil a day to control anxiety and stress as well as stomach, back
and hip pain.

"I have worked with guys who are high on cocaine, high on meth, drunk
. For them to care so much over medical marijuana, I was kind of

Gary Savard, business agent for Ironworkers local 720, says the union
and its legal advisers have been involved in Dickson's case from the
beginning, but unless he can pass a drug test he can't be sent to work.

Although Savard wouldn't go into details, saying there are other
issues involved in the situation he can't talk about, he says the file
is open.

"I think we have (treated him fairly). Obviously, he

The local follows the Canadian Model for Providing a Safe Workplace, a
set of drug and alcohol guidelines put out by the Construction Owners
Association of Alberta reviewed by labour, management and government
organizations. The model forbids anyone from reporting for work with
more than 15 nanograms of marijuana metabolite in a millilitre of
urine unless they're using prescription or non-prescription drugs as
directed, can do their duties safely and supervisors are warned of any
dangerous side-effects.

Employers have a duty to accommodate staff with medical conditions,
which must be balanced by ensuring people are safe, said Savard, who
deals with a couple of medical marijuana matters annually among his
2,300 members.

More research

He'd like more research done to determine how much THC (the
psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) people can have in their bodies
and still do their jobs safely, and what other work they can perform
if their medicine leaves them impaired. "From ourselves to our
partners to contractors, (we) need to take a harder look at this. It's
sort of a new field of medication. The emphasis is trying to find a
place where you can fit in, accommodate an individual in a fairly
dangerous occupation." Cameron MacGillivray is chief executive of
Enform, the upstream oil and gas industry safety association, which
has a drug and alcohol policy closely aligned with the one used in the
construction industry.

He says employers generally send workers in safety-sensitive areas who
are using medical cannabis or other prescriptions for assessment to
see if they could take other treatments that don't put them under the

The alternative is to come up with office assignments, leaves or other
approaches that keep them and their colleagues out of harm's way.

"People may have a legitimate need for medical marijuana, but that
doesn't mean they're fit for duty in a safety-sensitive workplace ...
The first step is finding if there's another role."

Wendel, the employment lawyer, says the rules are hazy, but it might
be hard for employers to prove people taking medical marijuana in
their off-hours who aren't impaired can't do jobs where safety is
important, even if they have traces of THC in their system.

"Employers are worried about ... human rights issues, there's
accommodation issues. On the other side, you have employees who say,
'I have a prescription for medical marijuana, I can come to work
stoned.' That doesn't work either."
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