Legal "doesn't mean safe": Experts advising stringent workplace policies following cannabis legalization.

Author:Myers, Ella Jane

Ontarians have been legally allowed to smoke cannabis anywhere they'd smoke a cigarette for a couple months now, but that doesn't mean they can light up any time.

This is especially true if they're on--or about to be on--the clock.

But as cannabis joins alcohol on the list of legal psychoactive substances across Canada, employers are wondering what their rights are when it comes to restricting cannabis use in their workplaces, while safety and legal experts are reassuring them they have tools to do so.

Legalization has been of particular concern in Northern Ontario, largely due to the higher number of safety-sensitive jobs, and to higher substance use rates, according to the Sudbury Community Foundation.

"What we're hearing across all sectors in this industry is very much a significant concern about how we're going to deal with this on the job site," said Clive Thurston, president of the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA).

Thurston said a high rate of fatalities on construction sites can be blamed on impairment, and he thinks cannabis will only add to the struggle to manage impairment onsite.

"Under the law we're supposed to maintain a safe work site, and how are we supposed to do that?"

According to legal experts, the best way is by developing rigorous fit-for-duty policies that explicitly set out a stance on cannabis.

"Just because something's legal doesn't mean you have to allow it in your workplace if you have a justifiable reason for not allowing it," explained Toronto lawyer Kelsey Orth, who's been educating employers across the province on their rights.

"A lot of places have a zero tolerance policy in respect to alcohol consumption. One of the things that we're seeing, and that we're advising our clients is, instead of focusing on the drug or substance that's causing the impairment, focus their policy on a fitness-for-duty standard."

That's what they've done at Vale's Sudbury mining operations, where Keith Hanson is the occupational health and disability management lead. They're advising employees to refrain from cannabis use for at least 24 hours before coming to work.

"We updated our alcohol and drug policy because marijuana is no longer an illicit substance. It jumped out of that category into another category."

But Hanson emphasized that their views on the safety of cannabis haven't necessarily changed following decriminalization.

"Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's safe," said Hanson. "What we see in these...

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