Drug and alcohol policies are not unusual within corporate organizations. In fact, most places that have employees have some sort of written policy that outlines regulations surrounding on-site impairment, which is most often a zero-tolerance guideline. Although painkillers and narcotics have been prescribed for everyday use in substantial numbers since the 1990s, cannabis is now a hot topic. With adult recreational legalization on the horizon and more and more patients using medical cannabis to treat a variety of conditions, how do business owners and employers navigate through legalities and new information?
East Coast Mobile Medical (ECMM), a Dartmouth-based occupational health and safety organization has been providing drug testing services for more than 23 years. As the legalization of cannabis looms, more organizations are looking for guidance from safety businesses to help them gain understanding and boundaries.
“Basically our focus is how to keep companies and their employees safe. When we work with a company we are helping, a policy is where they should start,” says Tom Toner, business development manager for ECMM. “Every employee needs to understand what their rights and responsibilities are, there is a lot of misinformation about what cannabis is and how it may affect you.”
Toner says education for employers and employees is key for promoting safe workspaces and ECMM partners with other safety-focused businesses to help foster education. Kyle Atkinson, president of Trauma Healing Centres has also recognized the need for more education in the work place and has opened another business, Workplace Cannabis Consulting, to tackle this issue.
“That is something we do every day in Trauma Healing Centres — patients come in and we educate them on cannabis as a medication and take them through the whole process — but in general, the average person, employer, insurance companies and even legal organizations really don’t know how this all works. When I say how this all works, it is really: what is medical cannabis and what is it not? There is a lot of confusion out there,” says Atkinson.
Toner says what they run into through ECMM is employers reaching out because they suspect an employee may be impaired and as an organization they want to make the right decisions for everyone involved. ECMM helps train managers on how to identify an impaired employee and guide them on how best to support the employee, while keeping in mind the safety of everyone in the organization. When it comes to medical cannabis Toner encourages employers and employees to communicate and be open about how their treatment affects them.
“If someone is on medical cannabis, the policy should say in the beginning, if you are on medical cannabis we would like you to put your hand up and identify yourself and let’s work with your family physician, or let’s work with your specialized physician and that’s where we partner, or refer to clinics where doctors deal with this regularly,” says Toner. “They review the chart and say they are on the wrong thing, or they are on the right thing and they are safe for them to do safety sensitive work. That is the most important thing.”
One of the centres that ECMM refers people to is Trauma Healing Centres.
Some of the most important education that Kyle Atkinson, of both Trauma Healing Centres and Workplace Cannabis Consulting, is bringing information to the public surrounding accommodating people who use medical cannabis and helping health professionals understand what prescribing medical cannabis looks like.
“This is a human rights issue, so you have to accommodate someone who is working or has a job and has a medicine like cannabis. In a way it’s like other medicines like narcotics that might impair you or have side effects. I started to understand that the folks out there educating employers, insurance companies or the general public, were not necessarily the best people to be educating,” says Atkinson.
Atkinson says the physicians and health-care professionals that work for Trauma Healing Centres have hands-on clinical experience, something that gives them first-hand knowledge of the industry.
“That’s what my doctors bring to the table, not only are they occupational specialists, but they are disability drug utilization specialists, they have work-safe and workers compensation experience, experience in prescribing cannabis, real clinical experience with thousands of patients. I realized we should be putting ourselves out there,” says Atkinson about how Workplace Cannabis Consulting got started. He added that many go-to cannabis experts in the health care industry in Canada, who are offering consulting services, have never prescribed cannabis.
This background in prescribing and dealing with patients who use cannabis every day is helping clear up misinformation that may have business owners and employers on edge about how to handle cannabis in the workplace — especially when it comes to the medical variety. Atkinson says there are a lot of employers and organizations who are scared of the whole prospect of dealing with cannabis, but he says once the facts are straight, employers, insurance companies and even workers compensation boards will see that medical cannabis is a win-win for everyone.
“They think it’s a big scary mess that is going to cost them a lot of money. We want to help them see that opening the door is OK and it actually may save them a ton of money. We see patients come in on vast amounts of pharmaceuticals, high doses, narcotics, depression medication, etcetera — and when cannabis works for those people, they often reduce or completely stop many of those medications — really what that means is someone is getting better and they can go back to work,” says Atkinson.
In many cases, the result of lessening reliance on non-cannabis pharmaceuticals and an overall improvement in health means people go back to work and come off disability. He says it’s this type of information that the medical cannabis industry needs to share with the public.
Toner says for his industry, the main focus is keeping everyone safe.
“It always comes back to one big thing: safety,” says Toner.
As more information is shared and more ground is laid for establishing the ins and outs of medical cannabis at work, accommodation for patients will increase and navigation will become easier for not only patients and doctors, but employers as well.
Connect With Cannabis is a monthly custom content feature that focuses on education around cannabis and its legalization.