Now that cannabis is legal in Canada should employers have the right to drug test employees?

Published Feb 27, 2019 02:00 p.m. ET

At one time showing up to work smelling like weed or with bloodshot eyes could get you sent home and, in some cases, even fired. Now that both medical marijuana and recreational products are legal many employers are considering implementing new drug test policies citing a safer workplace among the top reasons so many are contemplating taking on the additional expense. As of now those companies would be allowed to conduct routine screening on anyone who works for them, but should they be able to now that cannabis is legal?

How long does weed stay in your system?

One of the first factors to consider is how long marijuana will stay in a person’s system. This is relevant for both the length the effects will last, as well as the kinds of drug tests that are currently available to employers. How long cannabis will stay within an individual's system will depend on several factors including how often they use it, how long they have used it for, how much was consumed, and the manner chosen to ingest it.

The effects

The effects of using cannabis by smoking or vaping it will generally last for up to 6 hours after ingesting and are felt immediately because THC is absorbed instantly through the lungs. Edibles are different as the component THC is absorbed through the liver which is a process that can take up to 2 hours before the user feels anything at all.

How long THC will remain detectable

This is the second portion, and one that is even more difficult to accurately predict than how long the effects should last because every person processes and metabolizes THC differently. When THC is absorbed into the body, it is eventually stored within lipid fat cells. This is why THC can remain in a person’s system for so long, while not still producing the psychoactive effects. The length of time it will take for the chemical to be completely undetectable depends on the method used to test for it and the person’s history of use, but there are some guidelines that most will fall within. A saliva drug test can detect marijuana use within a small window of up to 6 hours. I urine drug test has the ability to go much further and is able to identify cannabis use of a person within the last 13-90 days. Those who use occasionally will fall on the lower end of the scale, while a regular user will be towards the higher end of 90 days.

How does THC affect workplace safety?

The number one reason that employers cite for wanting to introduce mandatory drug testing is the safety of their facility. This is important when a company uses machinery or motor vehicles, and even more so when working with flammable or other dangerous chemicals, but it doesn't hold true across the board. Factories are the only place that marijuana and its effects have been studied at length with the conclusion being that cannabis does have an adverse impact and increases the risk of injury by up to 13%. Those who work in an office or other safer setting that didn’t pose such high risks were a bit different and even seemed to imply that cannabis could have a positive influence on employees and productivity under the right circumstances. One study conducted by the NCBI even shows evidence of a wage premium associated with authors, artists, and office workers. These results are assumed to be because marijuana or more specifically THC can help to reduce stress, lift moods, and heighten creativity.

Conclusion

Though there does appear to be a risk associated with cannabis use be it recreational or medical marijuana. There doesn’t seem to be a legitimate reason for just any employer to be able to introduce such rules, as it can be damaging to both their employee’s well-being and is often considered to be an invasion of privacy. Even those who do have a certifiable reason to use drug testing should likely be limited in the types of testing they are able to administer. Delving into an entire month of a person’s life when they could be smoking on the weekends and in tip-top shape come Monday morning for work should not be discriminated against, especially if that person is able to demonstrate a medical need. Now that the plant is legal for anyone to use, it is essential that people who choose to partake in it be treated with the same respect that any other medication or recreational substance is, where it is only punishable or traceable under the proper circumstances for the right reasons.

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