Governments content to push pot, but leave employers on their own

As the person responsible for overseeing the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’s legislative activities for Atlantic Canada, I felt it important to show up, at this time last year, at the provincial government’s consultation on the legalization of cannabis.

I was there to represent employers. Unfortunately, there weren’t many questions around the impact of the legislation on the workplace. There were lots of questions about the legal age, who would sell it and the impaired driving problem.

But the closest thing to an occupational, health and safety question was where pot could be used. (In answer to this, Halifax Regional Municipality has come up with its now-infamous designated smoking areas.)

designatedsmokingarea

Regarding use in the workplace, the provincial government was groping in the dark. It basically said the same laws applying to alcohol apply to cannabis. Not much help. Other than sharing the distinction of being peddled by NSLC, alcohol and cannabis are not alike. Use of cannabis is more difficult to detect and the safety issues around new products streaming onto the market are largely unknown.

The consultation ignored the emergence of cannabis-specific workplace issues. Now, just a few short days since the pot prohibition has been lifted with such great fanfare, employers are left looking for guidance on how to manage cannabis in the cubicle, the cab, the kitchen, the crane or at the counter.

Small-business owners generally don’t have lawyers or HR specialists on staff, so they need support to prepare for the new reality of legal cannabis. The hundreds of questions we have received at CFIB on how to address cannabis-related workplace issues provides clear evidence of the uncertainty and need for proper guidance.

Some of the questions include: Can cannabis be consumed on their premises? What responsibility do they bear if an impaired employee or customer has an accident onsite? Can they ask employees to submit to a drug test if they have safety concerns?

To ensure small businesses are equipped to manage this, CFIB has created a suite of tools, including a free webinar, a workplace drug and alcohol policy template and an online course for employers and employees on workplace impairment. All of the resources, with the exclusion of the online course, are publicly available at cfib.ca/cannabis.

While we’ll always step up and help small-business owners with our web resources and business counsellors, OHS issues have serious implications and governments have been painfully slow to address these needs.

In a recent CFIB survey, 56 per cent of respondents said they are concerned the legalization of recreational cannabis will affect safety in their workplace. Seventy-six per cent of those business owners agreed the provincial government should develop tools and guidance to assist employers and employees in meeting their health and safety responsibilities with regard to workplace impairment and recreational cannabis.

In another recent survey conducted by Express Employment Professionals, 81 per cent of respondents said they hadn’t received any information from either the provincial or federal government about the upcoming legalization. Roughly two-thirds of the companies were concerned about their employees smoking up at work and about half are worried pot being legal will make the workplace more dangerous.

On top of this, in spite of enormous efforts to align business regulations, the federal and provincial governments simply dropped the interprovincial trade ball with cannabis. Small businesses are left grappling with a new mess of inconsistent and uneven workplace regulations across the country. Governments had the opportunity to create a clear, modern system. Unfortunately, the rushed process of legalization has created more questions than answers for small-business owners.

While we continue to look to government, there’s also room for the private sector to help on this. Canadian companies like Canopy Growth (Market Cap: $12.4 billion), Aurora Cannabis ($10.6 billion), Aphria ($3.6 billion), The Hexo Corporation ($1.2 billion), New Brunswick’s Organigram ($760 million), and others, all have a responsibility to help employers understand the implications of our new world. As the modern-day Seagrams, Hiram Walkers and Corbys, it is incumbent on them to use their communication tools to help employers adapt and understand this new reality — at least until government feels its way down the wall and finds the light switch.

This post originally appeared in the October 19 edition of the Chronicle Herald

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