By Leanne Standryk
One year ago, today on October 17, 2018, the Federal Cannabis Act permitted individuals 18 years of age or older to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis. We reported that Ontario’s Government passed legislation to increase the minimum age to 19 and further provided commentary on the impact of legalization of cannabis on the workplace.
Now one year later, the production and sale of cannabis edibles (candy, baked goods), beverages, extracts and topicals (oils, ointments, makeup) will become legal and available in stores by mid-December at the earliest. While these new products are likely to spark interest and again cause concern for employers, it remains perfectly clear that there is NO absolute legal right to use cannabis in ANY form at work. The Ontario Cannabis Act, 2017 will still prohibit the consumption of any form of cannabis in a workplace as defined by the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
These new products may increase the number of recreational users. For employers, it is important to understand the impact and experience of consuming edibles. According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction:
- Edible cannabis products vary widely in their appearance and ingredients, including how much THC and CBD they contain.
- It takes a long time for your body to absorb the THC from edible cannabis and therefore the intoxicating effects or “high” can take up to 30 minutes to 2 hours and peak at about 4 hours post-ingestion.
- The effects of ingesting cannabis can last up to 12 hours, with residual effects lasting up to 24 hours and THC is present in your body for longer than smoking or vaping.
- For some, the effects can be more intense than inhaling a similar dose of dried cannabis.
- Alcohol increases the intoxicating and impairing effects of cannabis. Consuming both at the same time can significantly raise the risk of over-intoxication and impairment.
- Over intoxication can include anxiety, panic, nausea, vomiting and paranoia.
- Edibles can produce positive urine tests for longer periods of time.
Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction 2019 ISBN 978-1-77178-563-1
Unlike cannabis that is inhaled or vaped, edibles may be undetected through smell. This will create new challenges for employers who try to identify signs of impairment in the workplace.
The fact that it may be undetected through smell may also increase the risk of inadvertent and/or unknowing consumption.
It has also been reported that “daily” or “near-daily” cannabis use increases the risk of dependence and can bring on or worsen disorders related to anxiety or depression” (CCESUA 2019 ~ Clearing the Smoke on Cannabis: Regular Use and Mental Health).
While the introduction of the new cannabis products into the market will present new challenges for employers, the approach to cannabis and impairment in the workplace will not change. Prohibition of cannabis in the workplace will shift from concerns of illegality to prohibiting impairment in the workplace as identified in our article “Legalization of Cannabis and the Workplace – A Game Changer?”
As we face these new challenges, employers are encouraged to remind employees that we “all” have a responsibility to maintain safety in the workplace. Educate employees on how the various forms of cannabis impact the body, particularly edibles. Evaluate your policies. Clearly communicate your workplace policy and ensure that everyone is aware of their obligations, rights and responsibilities. Provide training to managers and supervisors on identifying signs of impairment. Facilitate an environment where employees are encouraged to voluntarily disclose concerns of substance dependency in order to identify, detect and promote accommodation of addiction concerns and improved wellness.
Leanne Standryk is a senior partner within the Lancaster Brooks & Welch LLP, Labour & Employment Department and she may be contacted at 905-641-1551.
We confirm with you that the content of this article is to provide general information and should not be considered legal advice. Employers are encouraged to contact a member of our labour and employment group with any questions.