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Cannabis on Company Time

Cannabis on Company Time:

why do we prefer percs over pot?

by Henria Stephens, articling student at Cannabis Law, Barristers & Solicitors

December 11, 2020

 Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

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“Cannabis on the job.” When you hear that in your head, how does that you make you feel?

When I say it to myself, a little smile forms on my face. Even champions of the healing herb such as myself can get caught up by generalizations. My mind transports to those jobs where I know that despite being a defender of all things cannabis, I hesitate: is cannabis an impairment on the job?

Then my mind wanders again, and I argue with myself that depending on the strain and the ailment that cannabis is addressing, I have no concern with medicating on most jobs.

See how quickly attitudes can change?

Employees must disclose their cannabis use but not other drugs

All this said, I am not an employer. Nor do I have any preconceived ideas about what it means to use prescribed weed at work. But in Ontario at least, there is a regime of accountability on the part of employees to disclose their cannabis use - yes, according to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, employees must disclose their medical cannabis use despite no such requirement existing federally.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this obligation does not carry over to other medications. Why does that double standard exist? This idea that there must be disclosure of medical cannabis use at work bothers me, a lot.

There are over-the-counter antihistamines like Allegra and Sudafed that produce side effects more dangerous than cannabis and yet there are no types of sanctions or expectations imposed on employees to disclose their use. So why cannabis?

This double standard and the law are not motivated by health standards or proactive safety measures. They are motivated by stigma, bias, disinformation and money. These beasts do not go away without science and knowledge. Disinformation is a global pollutant, bias has magnified societal distrust, and money might very well be the root of corruption and social discord.

What are the benefits and detriments of cannabis?

Briefly, what are the benefits of medical cannabis? Cannabis treats a plethora of physical complaints (1) and can smooth out psychosocial issues and anxiety disorders.

For some, using medical cannabis at work means increased functionality, the ability to engage with colleagues without social anxieties, and reduced stress levels when facing pressing deadlines. For others it means getting through automated work monotony with a smile, having relief from repetitive strain injuries, or physical pain management.

What are the detriments? Risk of schizophrenia, risk of pulmonary disfunction if you smoke the flowers, and a loss of fine motor control - although, with the right strain fine motor control is actually enhanced. There is also an increased risk when mixed with tobacco of producing chronic and acute bronchitis. (2)

What I find disconcerting in terms of cannabis in the workplace is that since the Cannabis Act came into force, there is this blanket fear that this plant requires special and enhanced human resources policies and policing that we have not seen with other medicines. Is all this truly necessary to protect the public?

Perhaps what we need instead is a change in consciousness. Perhaps we need a fundamental shift in the political and social ideology that informed the legalization of cannabis. The need for a paradigm shift becomes more apparent when we look at the bureaucrats and businesses’ heavy-handed and cumbersome response to cannabis legalization.

There is not the same oversight and management of oxycodone, for example, which is a highly addictive pain reliever that affects people’s minds and moods and causes feelings of euphoria and was prescribed with complete abandon creating a national crisis. At the same time, family physicians and emergency department doctors feared the censure of writing cannabis scripts. What is going on here?

Through the oxy crisis we have seen that society cannot expect companies or legislators to assist. Change must start at the micro and personal level. Individuals need to change their mindset: revamping a company substance statement will not suffice; neither will another update of the Employment Standards Act.

Perhaps what we need instead is a change in consciousness.

Employers’ understanding of the benefits of the cannabis plant, especially in the context of work is critical. Imagine the day where an employer could feel secure in knowing that allowing employees to medicate with cannabis would result in better work performance, enhancing safety and producing more detailed work.

Yes I know, you’re thinking, “What do you mean it would enhance safety?!”

Consider that having an employee who is free from the trappings of their medical complaint — be it anxiety, chronic pain, tremors, or bowel dysfunction — could actually facilitate work performance at a higher level.

Or consider a law or suggested workplace policy that captures over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, medical marijuana, and other substances that may impair a worker’s ability to perform their duties adequately and safely. With that clarity at least, we could have the same standard practice for all medications, regardless of whether or not society approves of them. Of course, then there would be privacy issues to consider.

The double standard of disclosing cannabis use

But back to the main question. It is hard for me to understand the reason behind employees having to disclose medical cannabis use at work. I am not required to tell my employer when I'm taking a very strong pain medication on account of my cyclical issues, so why then should I be expected to tell my employer when I take CBD oil for the same complaints? Which is, as an aside, much more effective.

I don't tell my employer when I am prescribed and take conventional drugs for my mental health, so why then do I have to disclose my cannabis use for the same concern?

I don't tell my employer when I take strong muscle relaxants for my physical complaints, so why then for a topical cannabis cream that relieves the same problems without the drowsiness?

This double standard is rooted in the fear of cannabis that has not yet dissipated.

My medical conditions are no one's business but my own, and I’d like to think that most would agree. But then along came cannabis legalization, and many of the negative stereotypes that were associated with this fantastic plant somehow transplanted themselves into workplace policy. Now, my employer, unconcerned before, wants to have a say in how I medicate. How do you feel about that?

Feel free to take a look at my next blog that discusses the duty to disclose, how cannabis use in the workplace should be managed (hint, like any other medication), and tough decisions for employees as well as important policy decisions for employers.

Footnotes:

1. Webb CW, Webb SM. Therapeutic benefits of cannabis: a patient survey. Hawaii J Med Public Health. 2014;73(4):109-111. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3998228/>, Kowalewski-Pizzi, Ashley. The Medical Uses for Cannabis. 2018. <https://www.canadianliving.com/health/prevention-and-recovery/article/the-medical-uses-for-cannabis>

2. “The health and social effects of nonmedical cannabis use,” Sections 9.1.3 and 9.1.4, World Health Organization, as cited in Bennett, Russell, Young, Alan. Canada’s Cannabis Act: Annotation & Commentary, 2020/2021 Edition. 2020: 127.