marijuana leavesThe Canadian government’s legalization of recreational cannabis has again lately been a hot news item. Initially, there were some reports that recreational cannabis was to be legalized this week, by July 1, 2018. For a variety of reasons that date has been pushed back. Legalization is now set for October 17, 2018.

For more details about what exactly will be legal and illegal the Federal Department of Justice web page on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation provides a good starting place. The provinces have been tasked with creating their own laws within the federal framework. For information on Ontario specifically, check out the Ontario government’s Cannabis Legalization page.

Given the push back of the legalization date, employers have a bit more time to update their workplace substance abuse policies and develop strategies to deal with how recreational cannabis use may waft into the workplace.

Given our new provincial government in Ontario, we can’t say that things won’t change but at the moment the legal age limit for recreational cannabis will be 19. Starting October 17, 2018 products will be sold exclusively by the Ontario Cannabis Store. Edible cannabis products are expected to be available by October 2019. Edibles may cause a host of new issues to address, given ease of discrete consumption of cannabis in this form.

Recreational Cannabis and the Workplace

In Ontario, use of recreational cannabis will be permitted only in private residences or the outdoor space of a private residence, for example a porch, and in apartment buildings and condos only in your unit or on your balcony. Use in multi-unit dwellings will be subject to any rules specific to the lease or the building. This means that if the condo board decides to create a cannabis free building they are free to do so, though it is expected that this type of rule will be legally challenged.

Recreational cannabis therefore will not be permitted in the workplace, in any public space or in motorized vehicles. If you have an employee who is slipping out to the parking lot to smoke up during their lunch break they could be subject to the fines of $1,000 for a first offence and $5,000 for subsequent offences for using in public.

Employers and workers have a duty to keep workplaces safe and work safely. While employers have a duty to accommodate medical cannabis use, recreational use of cannabis in the workplace will be a violation of the law.

The Smoke-Free Ontario Act, 2017 comes into force on July 1, 2018. This legislation addresses the use of medical marijuana in the workplace. It prohibits the smoking of cannabis in any enclosed workplace or other designated area over which the employer exercises control, and also requires employers to remove anybody from the workplace who refuses to comply.

Employers should update their substance abuse policies to include language specific to cannabis, or to general impairment and fitness to work. If you’d like to chat about a concern specific to your workplace, get in touch. For more on workplace issues related to substance abuse check out our past posts here.