Cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for well over a decade in Canada. However, the newly accepted law that allows people to consume cannabis for recreational purposes has put both employers and employees in an uncomfortable situation.

Data from December 2019 shows that since the legalization, 22% of employers with 100-499 employees have had a cannabis-related incident in the workplace. Furthermore, 34% of employers don’t have a drug and alcohol policy. Additionally, the Canadian Cannabis Survey from 2019 has revealed that 67% of people used cannabis to “get high” before work. This is why employers now have to add a special cannabis clause to their workplace impairment policies. 

So, where does that leave employees who use cannabis therapeutically?

First, employees need to be aware that only patients have patients’ rights regarding this matter. Self-diagnosing and self-medicating is frowned upon, and tribunals rarely have sympathy for people who self-diagnose. Only people who are medically authorized can use cannabis at their workplace; meaning, employees must keep their documents and records up to date.

Furthermore, employers are obliged to accommodate employees who have been medically authorized for cannabis use, just like they would accommodate any other employee who is taking prescribed medication. However, employers have a duty to accommodate these workers only if accommodating them is not harmful to the regular business operations of their company.

This is why employees who use medicinal cannabis have to approach their bosses or HR reps if they have any trouble managing their health at work. To avoid unpleasant situations, the Canadian Human Rights Commission has made a list of questions that employers are allowed to ask their workers about their medical conditions. 

For example, employers can’t ask questions regarding the employees’ diagnosis, but they can ask about the doctors’ prognosis. They are also allowed to ask how often the employee needs to medicate, at what times, and in what way. But, most importantly of all, the employer has the right to ask questions regarding the source of the cannabis as illicit forms of cannabis are considered primarily for adult use (in other words, consuming cannabis for non-medicinal purposes) — hence why this doesn’t count as authorized medicine even though the employee might need it for medicinal purposes.

Besides the employer, the employees also need to be responsible for medicating at work. Although medicinal cannabis has been legal for more than ten years, people are still not used to it; there is still a lot of social stigma regarding its use. Therefore, it’s imperative that employees be careful so as not to expose their co-workers to smoke, or violate any other potential safety issues. Moreover, it goes without saying that they should also try their new medication at home first, to avoid any accidental impairment at work.