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Cannabis in the workplace: Four steps critical for success in communicating your company’s policy

Written by

Abby Garfunkel

Senior Account Executive, NATIONAL Capital Markets

According to a survey conducted by the Conference Board of Canada in spring 2018, more than half of participating organizations expressed either moderate or great concern regarding how legalization of recreational cannabis will impact the workplace. With legalization fast approaching, now is the time to communicate the implications of legal cannabis on workplace safety and job performance. Below are four key considerations for an effective communications plan so your organization is ready come October 17.

  1. Provide your employees with information and resources about cannabis so they can better understand your company’s cannabis policy. Your employees likely have varying degrees of knowledge about cannabis, so it’s important that they are aware of its various forms, “active ingredients” (particularly tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), methods of consumption, durations of onset and effect, and how it can be detected. This foundational knowledge will help them be better positioned to understand how to comply with your company’s cannabis policy.

  2. Revisit, revise and update your existing drug and alcohol policy. Like alcohol and other drugs, cannabis can cause impairment, so your drug and alcohol policy may be broad enough to cover recreational cannabis, or can be easily modified. Ensure your policy clearly defines terms like “workplace” and “impairment”; and that it contains your organization’s drug testing policy. It’s extremely important that the policy explicitly specifies how and when employees in safety-sensitive roles are allowed to use recreational cannabis, if at all.

  3. Prepare communications materials that effectively educate and inform on your policy. A presentation and discussion about recreational cannabis would be much more effective than giving your employees a policy to read. A face-to-face presentation will reassure management that participating employees have been properly informed, and will also provide an opportunity for employees to ask questions, which leads to the final consideration;

  4. Prepare to answer a variety of questions, seeking outside help as necessary. Employees may want to know if they can consume a small amount of cannabis on their lunch break, similar to enjoying a glass of wine at a business lunch - or, what they should do if they suspect another employee is impaired. The legalization of recreational cannabis requires that organizations distinguish recreational use from medical use: employers have a duty to accommodate an employee’s disability, which may require treatment with medical cannabis, but this does not mean employees can be impaired at work. It’s most prudent to consult human resources and/or corporate counsel for more complicated implications of legal recreational cannabis.

The best time to talk to your employees about recreational cannabis is now – ahead of legalization. Start by educating employees about cannabis, updating your drug and alcohol policy as necessary and ensuring employees are familiar with the policy in its entirety. Input from communications, human resources and legal professionals will ensure your employees are well and properly informed.

NATIONAL Public Relations has a network of communicators that are working with organizations as they prepare for cannabis legalization. Our employee engagement team would be happy to help you prepare for the impact legal recreational cannabis will have on your workplace.

——— Written by Joanna Wilson, former Senior Vice-President, NATIONAL Public Relations, and Abby Garfunkel, former Senior Account Executive, NATIONAL Equicom.