Local businesses preparing for legalized pot

By Sheldon Spackman
January 17, 2018 - 8:43pm

Representatives from about 70 local employers gathered at the Radisson Hotel in Red Deer Wednesday to learn more about what impact the planned legalization of marijuana later this year could mean to their business.

The event was jointly hosted by the Red Deer and Lacombe Chambers of Commerce.

The guest speaker was Kristi Pinkney–Hines RN, BSCN and OHN Founder and Director. Pinkey–Hines is a registered Nurse who is an active member of the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce and founded Hines Health Services in 2012. She is described as a leader in occupational health and workplace safety and widely-known across Canada.

She spoke of Bill C-45, The Cannabis Act, introduced in June 2016 and is expected to go into force no later than July of this year. The bill aims to legalize and regulate marijuana-use in Canada and hopefully take money out of the hands of organized crime while also making it harder for kids to access.

Pinkney-Hines says she wanted to provide employees and employers with a better understanding of what things are going to look like with the legalization of marijuana. She says employers maintain the right to set rules for non-medicinal use in the workplace.

“It’s constantly changing and evolving,” she says. “One of the most important things an employer can do going forward is having a ‘Fitness for Duty’ policy. I’ve talked to quite a few businesses that’ve never had a policy in place and now going forward, that’s their number one priority.”

Pinkney-Hines says a Fitness for Duty policy helps ensure worker safety and goes over everything from reasons to test, voluntary disclosure of a substance-abuse disorder, social activities, whether they’re able to have alcohol at the company’s social events, and much more.

“When marijuana is legal, technically if there’s no policy, it would be legal for people to be smoking marijuana at a company picnic,” explains Pinkney-Hines. However, she warns if a company does have a Fitness for Duty policy and you were in an incident and had a positive drug test, you could face termination.

“The number one thing an employer needs to know is they need to have a Fitness for Duty policy, provide training, you also want to be able to recognize signs of impairment,” states Pinkney-Hines. “For example, red eyes, uncoordinated, slurred speech, working in an unsafe manner, a change in their quality of work, absenteeism, these are all different signs.”

For employees, Pinkney-Hines says they need to be aware that just because marijuana may be legal, like alcohol, you can’t go to work impaired.

“You need to be educated that if my company does have a policy and I’m in an incident and I smoked marijuana the night before and I tested positive, I could lose my job.”

Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce CEO Robin Bobocel, says this is an issue important to all businesses in not only this region but all across Canada.

“As you can tell by today there’s a lot of questions, a lot of unanswered questions because of the changing nature of the issue and the lack of clarity coming from the federal government,” says Bobocel. “But I think it’s clearly something that employers are concerned with and we will continue to educate our members on.”

Bobocel notes the coming legislation could result in some economic development opportunities locally as well.

“There’s a whole new business model coming into Alberta, potentially central Alberta with respect to the legalization of cannabis,” explains Bobocel. “When it comes to cultivating the product, distributing it, retailing it, so it’s a whole new business opportunity as well.”

He states there is simply a lot of unknown’s at this point and the issue is something they still need to work on as a business community.

“Business relies on certainty from regulators and from governments, so it can make plans accordingly,” explains Bobocel. “No employer wants to be out-of-synch with labour legislation or human rights policies.”

Monica Bartman, Executive Director of the Lacombe and District Chamber of Commerce says this new legislation is quickly becoming a huge issue for all Canadian businesses.

“They’re forced to really look at how they’re going to prepare, how they’re going to deal with the legislation and the legalization of marijuana in the workplace,” explains Bartman. “Obviously protecting their employees and making sure that they are doing everything possible to be really prepared.”

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