HEALTH & SAFETY: Our thoughts one year after cannabis legalization in Ontario
Andrew Pariser and Cassandra Dobrzynski / RESCON
Today marks the first full year of legal cannabis in Canada. It's also the same day that cannabis extracts and topical products have become legal in Canada, which will be available in stores by mid-December at the earliest. Legalization has brought a wave of uncertainty for employers, regulators and the public, and RESCON expects this trend to continue. At RESCON, our focus is on the health and safety of workers and providing resources to builders which will allow them to keep their work sites safe.
WHAT WE KNOW SINCE LEGALIZATION
The RESCON health and safety committee was very active before legalization, holding a series of symposiums to provide as much information as possible to our members. As legalization approached, RESCON provided all members with a framework to help individual builders to customize a “fit for duty” policy for job sites and sub-trades. (The framework is still available to members upon request.)
Not only was this a trend, in construction, but it was the trend across all industries. In short, cannabis legalization was not about cannabis, but about impairment in general.
A second major theme that has emerged is “hurry up and wait.” As legalization approached, a major issue was the fact that science and regulation have not kept up with the law (legalization). Unfortunately, medical testing and regulations still lag creating uncertainty for employers. However, developments are progressing and RESCON continues to monitor labour board and legal decisions (including the Supreme Court of Canada), new testing procedures and standards, and the cannabis legalization in general.
Statistic Canada reports:
- The average age of a marijuana consumer in Canada is 38 years old as of early 2019.
- The proportion of Canadians aged 15 and older that reported using cannabis on a daily or almost daily basis (six per cent) was unchanged from one year earlier.
- Residents of Ontario and Alberta reported much higher use of cannabis, 21.5 per cent and 20 per cent respectively. Whereas Quebec and Manitoba reported lower-than-average use, with 11 and 13 per cent respectively.
The biggest development in the upcoming year will be the emergence of the edibles market and the expansion of cannabidiol (CBD) products. Specifically, provinces are expected to start selling products under the following four categories:
Concentrates: including cartridges, rosin (a solventless concentrate made with heat and pressure), resin, hash, wax, kief (a dry powder) and shatter (a butane hash oil).
Beverages: hot, cold and dealcoholized drinks (each in single servings).
Edibles: chocolate, soft candy, hard candy and baked goods.
Topicals: lotions, creams and bath products.
A major concern with edibles is the delay in impairment. As discussed in the several RESCON symposiums, impairment depends on three factors:
- The amount consumed.
- Amount or intensity of THC.
- Method of consumption.
Effects after consumption of edible cannabis are very different to smoking or vaping marijuana. For example, edibles can:
- take between 30-90 minutes before the user feels their effects, and longer for full effect;
- last anywhere from 12-24 hours or more; and
- cause serious effects if overconsumed, including panic, paranoia, greater cognitive and motor impairment, extreme sedation, agitation, anxiety, cardiac stress and vomiting.
This is particularly important for employees in safety-sensitive workplaces. What workers do on their own time, like the night before work, could affect their ability to be safe on the job.
As outlined above, all employers should have a fit-for-duty policy, and it will be vital to ensure it covers edibles. Please note that this was raised and addressed when RESCON distributed a framework in 2018 before legalization.
A broad policy which encompasses employer-specific factors is a prudent step forward. Industry or sector-wide policies should be avoided as health and safety obligations are unique and must be customized for every construction site.
Below are five steps employers can follow to manage edible cannabis risk in the workplace:
- Evaluate existing substance use and fit-for-duty policies (including employee, employer and supervisor expectations).
- Reinforce the importance for all employees to be familiar with substance-use policies and fit-for-duty expectations.
- Clearly communicate or recommunicate any new policies or changes and make sure employees understand their rights and responsibilities.
- Educate all employees using available online or in-person training about the functions of cannabis, the link between stress, cannabis and addiction risk and the accommodations process for medical cannabis users.
- Train managers on how to talk to employees who may be at risk for impairment or substance-abuse issues in the workplace.
RESCON is looking to do another follow-up session on cannabis in the workplace in the spring of 2020 once we have an understanding of how edibles are impacting job sites.
Andrew Pariser is the vice-president of RESCON and chair of the RESCON health and safety committee. Reach him @RESCON_VP or at email@example.com, or call 905-760-7777. Cassandra Dobrzynski is RESCON’s associate of member and corporate services. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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