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Metrolinx is bringing in a tough new anti-cannabis policy, banning recreational use by employees or contractors in nearly 140 categories of “safety-critical” jobs.

Phil Verster, chief executive officer of the provincial agency that oversees GO Transit and a number of small local transit agencies in southern Ontario, argued the policy is required because there is no clarity on how long cannabis can affect a person and is confident the approach could pass a legal challenge.

“We are not curtailing the right of individuals to use cannabis, we are just saying that if you want to execute the type of roles that are safety-critical … you cannot use cannabis, “ Mr. Verster said in an interview. “If there’s a lifestyle choice, there’s also a career choice.”

He said people covered by the policy, which is set to take effect Feb. 1, will be asked to self-report if they have used cannabis. Those who do so will be moved to another role until the drug is deemed to have left their system, a length of time that will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. People who routinely report use of the drug will be encouraged to take a different role at the agency.

Metrolinx also has a separate policy for testing employees for drugs and alcohol, but that is done only when there is reason for suspicion.

The new cannabis policy goes beyond other transit agencies in the country and is more strict than the rules governing Toronto police officers, who are banned from using the drug for 28 days before a shift. Mr. Verster said the agency will continue to talk to employees and the union and a move to the 28-day model is possible.

The union could not be reached Sunday to comment on the possibility of a court challenge.

“It seems very draconian and I’m not aware of anything similar,” said Caryma Sa’d, a Toronto lawyer whose practice includes dispensary clients, tenants threatened with eviction over cannabis and condo boards trying to set policies around the drug.

“This is the employer reaching in beyond the employee’s working hours and trying to regulate what they do in their free time. And so I find that hugely problematic, and more so because, as far as I know, there’s no evidence or data to suggest that cannabis use during non-work hours would have any impact on performance while at work.”

According to the new cannabis policy, which was e-mailed to staff on Friday and first reported by the Toronto Star, “all employees who work in a safety sensitive position know that they are prohibited from using recreational cannabis and/or cannabis products whether they are on or off duty.”

Mr. Verster said users of medical marijuana will be handled the same as those who self-report recreational use and moved to a role where safety is not a concern.

It was not immediately clear exactly how many people would be affected by the policy. Metrolinx contracts with Bombardier to operate its trains, has private construction workers at a number of sites and employs about 3,700 people directly. Fewer than half are in positions where safety is an issue, making them subject to the policy, the CEO said.