Pubdate: Thu, 01 Feb 2018
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2018 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Authors: Jen Skerritt and kevin Orland
Page: FP1


Legal weed worries employers

WINNIPEG * Once recreational marijuana becomes legal, Garnet Amundson
says it will get a lot harder to find the workers he needs at
Essential Energy Services Ltd. And he isn't the only employer who's

Essential Energy provides services to oil and natural gas drillers
across Canada, and its employees handle volatile chemicals, operate
heavy equipment and work with high-pressure pipes and valves. In
short, it can be a dangerous job if safety procedures aren't followed
to the letter. That's why the Calgary-based company only hires people
who pass a drug test.

The problem - one that many companies are wrestling with - is that the
active ingredients in marijuana can remain in a person's bloodstream
for weeks, long after the high is gone. At the moment, there's no way
to tell whether a candidate indulged in pot at home over the weekend
or smoked a joint in the car on the way to the job interview. And if
legal weed boosts casual pot usage, there's a risk that fewer
applicants will be clean enough to hire.

It's a little like "somebody said to us, 'If you've had a drink in the
last two months, you're considered not fit for duty,'" said Amundson,
Essential Energy's chief executive.

The prospect of more failed drug tests is a big concern for an energy
industry that is expanding and needs more workers. Companies already
are having a hard time hiring enough qualified people to perform jobs
that are physically demanding and require long stretches in remote
locations. That matters because energy accounts for seven per cent of
Canada's economy and produces fuel exports to the U.S. that hit US$54
billion in 2016.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants recreational marijuana to be legal
by the summer, making good on his 2015 campaign pledge. He has argued
prohibitions on pot waste law-enforcement resources and that the
government could do more to prevent use by children by shutting down
the illicit market. Provincial and city officials have said they need
more time to develop local regulations and policies.

Legal marijuana would create a new dilemma for employers that long ago
adopted drug and alcohol testing for high-risk jobs.

The trucking industry began screening drivers in the mid-1990s to
comply with a request by the U.S. The tests spread to the oilpatch as
U.S. companies began building more energy projects in places like Alberta.

Most energy companies conduct urine or saliva tests for drugs and
alcohol, said Tim Salter, executive director of the Drug and Alcohol
Testing Association of Canada. They screen job candidates and
sometimes test employees before they can access certain sites, or when
someone is suspected of being impaired or was involved in an accident,
he said.

Adding marijuana to the mix will boost costs for companies, especially
if recreational use becomes more common.

There's also a legal risk. Suncor Energy Inc., the largest Canadian
oil producer, tried to implement random drug testing at some job
sites, but a judge blocked the move after objections from the union
that represents some workers.

Marijuana advocates say the industry's concerns are overblown. More
than 43 per cent of Canadians 15 or older have tried pot in their
lifetimes and 12 per cent used it in the past year, according to a
2012 government survey. One-third of people 18 to 24 years old had
used it in the past year.

Employers will continue to have the right to ensure employees aren't
intoxicated on the job, said Alex Shiff, an adviser at the Cannabis
Trade Alliance of Canada, which represents licensed growers and retailers.

"I don't think we're going to be seeing any systemic changes in terms
of how society functions," Shiff said. "Those workplaces that already
do not tolerate people being impaired on the job will continue to do

The government is planning more education about marijuana, and
regulating its usage will help ensure safer roadways and workplaces,
said Bill Blair, the MP and former Toronto police chief who's
Trudeau's point man on legalization. Canada isn't considering allowing
random drug testing like some U.S. jurisdictions do, he said.

Industry groups are bracing for legalization. The Petroleum Services
Association of Canada is developing guidelines for firms seeking to
adapt their drug and alcohol policies after the change, CEO Mark
Salkeld said. The Canadian Trucking Alliance is advocating mandatory
drug and alcohol testing, which might limit legal challenges for
companies that want to maintain zero-tolerance policies, said
president Stephen Laskowski.

Companies elsewhere have adapted. In Colorado, where legal sales of
recreational marijuana began in 2014, the state made sure companies
could terminate or refuse to hire workers who fail drug tests for
safety-sensitive positions, according to Carrie Jordan, president of
the DJ Basin Safety Council, an oil and gas industry group. The
council advises companies to be clear about zero-tolerance policies to
make sure employees understand the consequences. "The industry is very
resilient," Jordan said. "They're going to figure out a way to make it

Since legalization, there has been an increase in work site accidents,
including slips, falls and slow reactions to emergency situations, she
said, without providing data to back up her assertion.

Worker-compensation claims suggest Colorado's pot law has yet to show
any impact on safety. Claims in 2015 slipped 0.7 per cent from a year
earlier to 34,078, and dropped again in 2016 to 33,827, the data show.
The figures are preliminary because claims can be reported up to two
years after the injury.

Colorado's shifting employment landscape makes it hard to isolate the
effect of legalization, according to David Gallivan, a regulatory
analyst for the state's Division of Workers' Compensation. The years
in question correspond with record low unemployment as well as shifts
in the composition of the workforce in more injury-prone sectors,
including an increase in construction jobs and a decrease in natural
resources, he said.

At Essential Energy, Amundson says he'll continue drug testing of job
applicants for now and will only hire those who pass.

"I would always prefer to hire a guy who has a clean drug test and a
strong physical body and a great work ethic," he said. "But I suspect
now our pool of those individuals could get thinner."
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