Testing for Marijuana Use in the Workplace

Testing for Marijuana Use in the Workplace. Marijuana will be legal in Canada by July 2018. How will your workplace adapt?

With legalization less than a year away, provincial governments and law enforcement agencies are contemplating the challenges it presents. Much as been said about this in terms of public health, law enforcement, and the health and safety of Canadian youth.

One overlooked aspect of the marijuana legalization discussion has been how it will impact workplaces. It’s likely that easier access to marijuana will lead to greater consumption. One study estimates that there will be 600,000 new marijuana users once the drug is legal.

This raises concerns about workplace safety. More cannabis users means a great chance of workers coming to work under the influence. Within hours of consuming THC, a person may experience delayed reactions, distractibility, and misperceptions of space and time. These effects can have consequences when it comes to safety-sensitive positions like truck drivers and machine operators.

One method employers use to address safety concerns arising from drug and alcohol use is workplace drug and alcohol testing. However, testing for marijuana use is not as simple as testing for alcohol.

Currently, there is no reliable breathalyzer-like device for narcotics, like cannabis, in use in Canada. When Canadian law enforcement needs to test a person for marijuana use, they usually take the person to the police station to be examined by a specialist, or order a urine sample.

Some companies, like Cannabix Technologies in Vancouver, are working to develop a ‘marijuana breathalyzer’ in time for legalization. It remains to be seen whether these devices will work. For now, the best way to detect THC is an oral fluid test, urine test, or testing for drugs through blood.

Another challenge comes from the fact that testing for marijuana use does not necessarily test for impairment. Unlike blood-alcohol measurements, there are no legally recognized quantitative levels of THC. Blood and oral fluid testing can show a likelihood of impairment during certain time windows, but it is imprecise.

Developing an effective workplace drug testing policy takes time. If you have concerns about drug use in the workplace, you should begin consulting with human resource and legal professionals before the law changes next year.