Cannabis 101


The pending revision of Canada’s marijuana laws will affect the workplace.

Liberalisation of Canada’s marijuana laws appears to be imminent. The Cannabis Act is currently expected to become law in 2018 and will decriminalize certain activities and make marijuana more widely available under a controlled production, distribution and sales system. Whether or not you agree with the intent of the proposed Cannabis Act, the loosening of the laws governing the sale and use of marijuana raises important questions for businesses regarding health, safety and legal liability.

Most provincial and territorial occupational health and safety regulations require an employer to take all reasonable means to ensure the protection of their workers. The employer also has a reasonable expectation that employees should not be impaired on the job. The question then becomes when are employees impaired and whether, if they believe themselves to be impaired, they are required to inform their employer.

Employer Responsibility

All employers recognize that, if an employee is incapacitated to the extent that they cannot perform their assigned tasks, the employer is required to either allow a leave of absence or find a task within the organization that allows the employee to rehabilitate so as not to create safety or health issues for other workers.

Employers may have to pay for medicinal marijuana.

It may come as a surprise to employers to discover that, in the event an employee is injured on the job, the employer, as part of the restitution/rehabilitation package, could be required to pay for the employee’s use of prescribed medicinal marijuana. This would not be dissimilar to the payment for any other medication that may be required to assist an injured employee in getting back to work.

Employment Agreements

Employment agreements usually address issues such as alcohol, the use of smartphones while driving and sexual harassment. These agreements reflect management’s due diligence in acting to avoid or mitigate huge losses from lawsuits against the company. Even though both employees and employers have a responsibility to ensure a safe workplace, the employer, its management and directors bear the ultimate legal responsibility.

In the matter of marijuana prescribed by a doctor for pain relief, employees may be unable to travel to jurisdictions with criminal laws for possession. Not only does this cause concern for the employer, but it may also jeopardize an employee’s future if arrested, charged and convicted by a foreign government. A prohibition on future travel for work in such jurisdictions may never be lifted.

Drug Testing

The employer has a responsibility to establish the grounds for any proposed drug testing. Some businesses have employment agreements that require drug testing to ensure employees are not impaired. The liberalisation of the marijuana laws creates a whole new area of uncertainty as to whether an employee is impaired. Random drug testing of employees can become problematic. If the employee refuses and they are fired, they might sue for wrongful dismissal. Further, some chemical components of marijuana, as for some other drugs, may linger in the employee’s system and be picked up by the test even though the person is no longer impaired.

Review Your Contracts

Your business may have employee contracts which stipulate that substance abuse is not allowed on the job site. What happens in the event one of your employees is on medicinal marijuana? Is this in violation of the contract? Is this in violation of safety regulations? Is it a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

Owner-managers are well advised to seek professional assistance as well as legal advice to review all:

  • contracts with companies and government agencies from whom they receive contract work
  • employment contracts
  • policies and procedures on the safe use of machinery and equipment
  • protocols for detecting impairment and the penalties and/or sanctions that may need to be rewritten
  • medical insurance policies
  • insurance policies for third-party liability or vehicle insurance that may contain caveats that cancel payout in the event of drug use
  • in-house education programs to make sure workers know how to recognize their impairment and when to communicate their inability to perform their tasks safely.

It is difficult if not impossible at the present moment to determine the consequences of legalizing marijuana and its impact on employers, employees and existing contractual arrangements with contractors, subcontractors, government and regulatory authorities, both within our borders and without.

Examine Procedures and Protocols

Good business practice suggests that owner-managers become proactive and educate themselves on the effects the pending legislation may have on their business. Procedures and protocols may have to be changed or new ones created to ensure a workplace that accommodates the health concerns of the workers without compromising the safety of the workplace.


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Disclaimer: BUSINESS MATTERS deals with a number of complex issues in a concise manner; it is recommended that accounting, legal or other appropriate professional advice should be sought before acting upon any of the information contained therein.
Although every reasonable effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this letter, no individual or organization involved in either the preparation or distribution of this letter accepts any contractual, tortious, or any other form of liability for its contents or for any consequences arising from its use.
BUSINESS MATTERS is prepared bimonthly by the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada for the clients of its members.
Richard Fulcher, CPA, CA – Author; Patricia Adamson, M.A., M.I.St. – CPA Canada Editor.
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