Clearing the Haze Around Marijuana Use for Agency Staff & People Supported

At 12:01 a.m. on October 17th, the Federal government officially lifted the 95-year-old ban on the possession and consumption of marijuana. Strict regulations around the production, distribution, and sale of pot, and who and where you can consume it, remain in place.

The legalization of marijuana has led to curiosity among some people who have never consumed the drug, and concern from many employers – agencies within the development services sector are no different.

Cheryl Wiles Pooran, a labour and employment lawyer with PooranLaw Professional Corporation, has been fielding a lot of calls and emails from agencies in the weeks and months leading up to the legalization of marijuana. Wiles Pooran said that “the challenges associated with identifying, preventing and addressing impairment on the job, as well as accommodating medical marijuana use, are serious concerns for many organizations supporting people who have disabilities.”

“Most of our clients have support workers who are either driving modified vans, supporting people in the community, or providing unsupervised supports to people who are dependent on them for health and wellbeing, so that’s a serious question for them.”

She added that agencies can certainly prohibit use and possession on agency-owned premises, and restrict pot impairment while employees are on duty.

“Developmental services sector agencies need to have really clear policies on the issue of drugs and alcohol in the workplace and we’re saying, ‘Alcohol and recreational marijuana use, you can treat them exactly the same.’”

“You would never allow a person to show up to work under the influence of alcohol, to be consuming alcohol during a break from work, or to be in any way impaired on the job. The same rules apply to recreational marijuana.”

Wiles Pooran said agencies need to address four specific issues in their policies following the legalization of recreational pot: impairing medications/medical marijuana, fitness for work/impairment in the workplace, scent sensitivity, and smoking in the workplace. Rules and prohibition around the use of marijuana can be established, just like other legal drugs, even if they are for medicinal use.

“Most agencies already have some or all of these, but they need to tweak them and carve out the accommodation-related use of cannabis.”

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has developed a new policy for cannabis use in the workplace, including necessary accommodations, should agencies and parents want more information.

“The issue of accommodating the use of medical marijuana has already been an issue for a few years, so there is quite a lot of resources out there, including from the Human Rights Commission, on this topic.”

You can access the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s resources by clicking here. PooranLaw has also produced a series of webinars on cannabis use in the workplace, and you can register for their upcoming live interactive webinar here.

When asked about the issue of supporting someone who has an intellectual disability to consume marijuana, Wiles Pooran said, “Agencies should be respecting the rights of individuals just as they would with any other lifestyle choice. Most agencies have ‘Individual Rights’ policies in place that provide guidance related to freedom of choice, rights to privacy, and autonomy.”

She concluded her remarks by stating, ultimately, decisions about where and how marijuana is consumed will need to balance the competing interests and needs of people who share living environments and workplaces – the health and safety interests of others will need to be considered, as will the risk of second-hand exposure and involuntary impairment.

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