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President, Intercept Group

Just as digital transformation has disrupted legacy business models, cannabis legalization will fundamentally challenge workplace policies.

On Oct. 17, recreational marijuana will officially become legal in Canada. According to a recent study conducted by Deloitte, 22 per cent of the Canadian adult population consumes recreational cannabis at least occasionally, and a further 17 per cent show some willingness to try it.

When we look at the single largest generation in the work force – millennials born between 1980 and 2000 – we see even higher receptivity. A national millennial study conducted by Intercept revealed that nearly three-quarters of respondents agree with the legalization of cannabis. And, they’re eager to try a variety of formats, including marijuana-infused baked food (52 per cent), skin lotions (49 per cent), candy (40 per cent) and vapour (38 per cent). Interestingly, while the majority of millennials agree with legalization, they also have concerns. Nearly 40 per cent believe it may lead to poorer performance at work.

Like it or not, cannabis consumption is about to spike. The total number of Canadians who’ve already registered for medical marijuana use exceeded 270,000 in December, 2017, according to Health Canada.

If you’re concerned about the implication of cannabis legalization, you’re in good company. In a report by the Conference Board of Canada, more than half of Canadian employers expressed concern about the implications of legalized marijuana on the workplace.

Cannabis will force company leaders to rethink existing workplace policies and implement new ones to ensure they’re offering a safe, inclusive and productive environment.

What to do in the next 60 days

Redefine “impairment.”

Employers need a clear statement of what constitutes “impairment” within their workplace. Just as it isn’t permitted to be intoxicated at work, it shouldn’t be acceptable to be high either. Any incidents of suspected impairment should follow proper protocols, including: incident reports, progressive discipline and appropriate corrective action.

Update smoke and scent policies.

While smoke-free laws apply to smoking marijuana, you should update your smoking policies to explicitly include the use of marijuana. Employers should also review their existing scent policies to ensure it includes cannabis-related complaints.

Update drug policies.

Existing drug policies should be updated to outline appropriate uses of medical marijuana. It’s important that such policies are imposed uniformly across other forms of “prescription medications.”

What to do in the next 90 days

Evaluate drug-testing policies.

Depending on the nature of your organization, drug-testing policies to measure levels of impairment may be reasonable, especially for safety-sensitive positions. That said, improvement in testing technologies is needed to accurately measure levels of impairment versus simply the presence of THC.

Investigate health plan options.

Employers should speak with their health-plan providers to expand traditional group benefit plans. In February of this year, Sun Life announced that they are adding medical cannabis coverage to group plans. Manulife also offers similar coverage on a selective basis. Organizations such as Loblaw, Ontario Public Service Employees Union and the University of Waterloo Students’ Union have adopted such policies. When updating group plans, important factors to consider within the collective agreement are clear annual fund limits and specific eligibility conditions to limit ambiguity.

Change is here — don’t fight it, embrace it

Regardless of your morals and beliefs, a zero-tolerance policy is simply not feasible. It’s potential grounds for discrimination against employees who use cannabis to treat medical ailments and disabilities.

But more importantly, as the role of business leaders has shifted to become curators of culture, companies need policies that are fair, inclusive and enable them to build “work-fam” cultures.

Today, we are seeing a convergence of changes. Legal and regulatory changes. Rise of millennials in the work force. Acceleration of digital transformation. While it feels highly disruptive, there’s a tremendous opportunity for company leaders to reassess their culture, rethink their operations and reconnect with their teams.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

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