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Highs and Lows: Cannabis Legalization Doesn’t Mean You Can Be High at Work

On October 17, 2018, the recreational use of cannabis was decriminalized.

For several years before that, I spoke at conferences to address extensive fears that decriminalization would lead to rampant drug use and impairment at work.

For several months since then, I have spoken at conferences and in the media and commented that contrary to those widespread fears, the sky has not fallen (see this article, for example). We have not seen a demonstrable increase in the number of incidents of cannabis use or impairment at work.

Interestingly, the Toronto Star recently published an article entitled Half a million Canadians used weed before or at work: National Cannabis Survey, in which they reported that according to the latest National Cannabis Survey:

  • Roughly 500,000 Canadians used cannabis before — or at — work since February;

  • Around 21.5% of Albertans aged 15 and older — roughly 750,000 people — reported using cannabis in some form over the last three months;

  • The national average is 18%;

  • Last May, it was closer to 14%;

  • Around 646,000 Canadians tried weed over the last three months — and half are aged 45 or older; and

  • Daily cannabis use hasn’t changed, but weekly and “occasional” use went up.

So does this mean that my comments were premature, or failed to recognize the reality of the situation since the decriminalization of cannabis? Some will argue that the study shows that a significant number of people are now using cannabis while on the job or shortly prior to going to work. It is not an epidemic by any stretch of the imagination, but it is important for individuals (and employers) to bear one important fact in mind:

Just because recreational cannabis is no longer criminal does not mean you can get high, or be high, at work.

Employers, if you have not already done so, you need to have a proper drug and alcohol policy in place which

  • confirms that impairment at work is never acceptable

  • requires reporting of all medication that could cause impairment at work (not just cannabis)

  • tempers any absolute ban with an acknowledgment that some employees may consume alcohol while carrying out their duties (ie client dinners)

  • includes a clear mechanism for employees to request accommodation and a clear procedure for responding to such requests

  • encourages employees to report addiction, plus

  • offers accommodation while warning of discipline if addiction is not disclosed but results in impairment at work, and

  • sets out clear consequences of any breach.

Employers should also ensure that everyone understands the policy, and that it is consistently enforced. We have worked with many of our clients to put these measures in place and would be happy to help you do so.

Employees, do not confuse the change in criminal laws with any change at work; they are two very different concepts and showing up high at work could cost you your job. We have worked with clients to help them address addiction and determine the best course of action at work when they use cannabis medicinally. We can help you protect your rights and avoid risking your job, so contact us if you think you might need help.

We would like to thank this month’s guest blogger and RHBOT member, Stuart Rudner.

Stuart is the founder of Rudner Law. In 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 he was selected by his peers for inclusion in ‘The Best Lawyers in Canada’ in the area of Employment Law and have been repeatedly named in Canadian HR Reporter’s Employment Lawyers Directory (a comprehensive directory of the top employment law and immigration law practitioners in Canada). He was also named one of Canada’s top Legal Social Media Influencers. Rudner Law, was nominated as one of the Top Employment & Labour Boutiques in Canadian HR Reporter Readers’ Choice Awards for 2018 and won the Canadian Employment Law Firm of the Year for 2019 in the Global Law Experts Annual Awards.

For more information about Rudner Law please contact

Stuart Rudner

Employment Lawyer & Mediator

Main: 416.864.8500 or 905.209.6999

Direct: 416.864.8501 E: