This August, Health Canada introduced regulations to make cannabis more accessible for medical purposes. This spring, the federal government plans to make the recreational use of marijuana legal.

While legislation will make marijuana legal, Canada’s oil and gas industry is wondering how easier access to pot will affect its workers in safety-sensitive jobs.

“There has to be some discussion with industry on how this will be managed,” says Mark Salkeld, the president and CEO of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada. “We’re not for or against the legalization of marijuana. We just want some answers.”

Enform outlined PSAC’s and other industry associations’ concerns in a letter to the Task Force on Marijuana Legalization, Regulation and Restriction in August. Many of those concerns revolve around employers’ obligations (and costs) to ensure a safe workplace and marijuana’s adverse effects on workplace safety. The task force has yet to reply.

Exactly how marijuana’s legalization will affect the oil and gas industry is not yet fully understood. But one of the biggest shifts is likely to be in attitudes.

“Once marijuana is legalized, you won’t have the same social stigma about it,” says Loretta Bouwmeester, a Calgary lawyer with Matthews, Dinsdale & Clark LLP who specializes in occupational health and safety. “Because it will be legal, some people will think it’s OK to use at work. They won’t think about it the same way they do about alcohol”.

Our next column in this blog series will look at the effects of marijuana, but simply said it impairs thinking and actions. Bouwmeester says employers will have a responsibility to help their workers understand the effects—and risks—of marijuana use in the workplace.

“Don’t assume people understand the risks, especially those related to driving and equipment operations,” Bouwmeester says. She points to Washington state, where one-third of impaired drivers have tested positive for marijuana every year since weed was legalized in 2014.

She has already advised many of her clients to review and update (where necessary) their workplace policies and procedures in preparation for marijuana’s expected legalization.

“You need to plan, do, check, act and repeat,” she says.

Her recommendations, which apply equally to alcohol and other drugs, include:

  • Have a policy that deals with impairment caused by alcohol and legal, illegal, prescription and over-the-counter drugs and substances; focus on whether someone is impaired rather than the source of the impairment.
  • Implement the policy, including training supervisors and workers; and clearly communicate the consequences of failing to comply with the policy.
  • Know your duty to accommodate and educate employees on being fit for duty. Employees with legitimate underlying health concerns can be helped in a number of ways, such as a medical leave of absence, treatment/rehabilitation or temporary reassignment.
  • Be proactive; take steps before something becomes a problem.
  • Understand and take steps to protect the confidentiality of personal health information.
  • Train supervisors and workers to detect impairment in others; give them tools and support to report concerns quickly, safely and confidentially.

Salkeld says industry will also look to government for “a definitive process” to deal with marijuana and will work to ensure the costs of such processes don’t fall to industry.

For resources on developing alcohol and drug policies, see Alcohol and Drug Policy Model for the Canadian Upstream Petroleum Industry.