Weed at the office Christmas party? What will work life be like after legalization?

Businesses need to work out their policies for life after October 17, 2018

It’s December 2018 and you’re responsible for organizing your office Christmas party. You’ve got the food, you’ve got the booze. Should you also buy a few joints or edibles now that marijuana is legal in Canada?

Or you’re the boss of a sales team. You’re accustomed to your staff taking clients out for drinks to woo business, but what if you’re handed an expense claim for marijuana? Isn’t that as legit a way to seal the deal?

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As a labour and employment lawyer at Roper Greyell LLP, Drew Demerse has been fielding all sorts of questions about how life will change for Canadian businesses on October 17. That’s the day it becomes legal for anyone — including your staff — to buy and partake in the use of marijuana.

The first thing is he does is reassure them that the new laws aren’t going to turn everyone into a pothead overnight.

“On October 17, you won’t have a new raft of employees smoking marijuana. They’re already doing it,” he said at Thursday’s legalizing cannabis seminar hosted by Business in Vancouver at the Vancouver Club.

He said his answer usually shocks business owners which, in turn, surprises him.

“The biggest unknown is how to detect present impairment,” he said of business concerns post-legalization. “The best you can do is employ good prevention tools and deal with the science as it is today.”

The federal government is being very stringent with its acceptable level of impairment when it comes to getting behind the wheel of a car. Drivers will be allowed no more than two nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood, which in many cases is the equivalent of having a puff or two.

“Should employers be as rigid? I expect we’ll see a lot of litigation on these issues,” he said.

Because Canada is one of the first countries to legalize marijuana, there isn’t a lot of case law to build on so, to a certain extent, workplaces will have to wing it when it comes to what employers and employees can expect when the new laws come into effect. It’s legal to consume alcohol. Does that mean everyone is drunk when they come back to work after lunch?

Asked by BIV moderator Hayley Woodin if employers can treat alcohol one way and marijuana another, Demerse said “You can but the question is should you? You can set rules about what to expect at the work place. You can’t regulate what they do away from work unless it affects their job.”

There was the case of a Nova Scotia business that banned marijuana use because of safety concerns. The labour arbitrator said that’s reasonable in those situations. “Only you can really draw a clear line about someone’s ability to safely do their job,” Demerse said.

The good thing about the new laws is consumers will know a lot more about what they’re buying. When you get a bottle of craft beer, you’re told whether it’s 3.5 per cent alcohol or six. It helps you decide how much you should consume. The same will be true of marijuana. “For the general public you can’t make responsible decisions unless you have product information.”

And for those organizing their office Christmas party, Demerse had this to say: “Do we have to start supplying weed? You can. Fill your boots. But just because it's legal doesn’t mean you have to.”



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