The Cannabis Legislation and what it means for Health, Safety and employment law
The upcoming referendum on recreational Cannabis brings with it the potential for massive change to the workplace and employee management. The first step is to clearly outline and understand what the referendum is actually proposing and what will be permitted if it is passed.
Key points to know before we jump to conclusions:
- The referendum does not cover medicinal cannabis, driving while impaired or workplace health and safety. All of these things are covered by EXISTING legislation.
- Cannabis consumption will only be permitted on private property or on licenced premises
- The minimum age for purchase and use would be 20 years old
So right off the bat we can eliminate some conclusions some have been jumping to. Firstly, the consumption of cannabis like any other drug or alcohol is already covered under current employment law. Even if a business is technically a private property, if the consumption of drugs or alcohol in the workplace are prohibited then this will continue to be the case. Likewise, with the operation of company vehicles or machinery, if drugs and alcohol are prohibited then the rule will continue as before. Employers retain their right to direct their employees to not consume or bring drugs or alcohol into the workplace.
Most employers have clear expectations around what are acceptable amounts of alcohol at work and work functions so it will now be up to the employer to establish what are acceptable levels of use if cannabis is legalised. What level of THC is acceptable in an employee’s system is acceptable? This question is far more complicated considering the way in which cannabis interacts with the body. Alcohol can be present in the blood stream for up to 12 hours, meaning a use on a Friday or Saturday night is very unlikely to evident on the Monday following. Cannabis is in a completely different class to alcohol and as a result is present in bodily fluids for up to 30 days and can be detected in hair for several months.
The biggest change for employers will be in how they implement their policies around the use of cannabis. As it is still currently illegal (at time of writing) for recreational use, that is enough justification for employers to have zero tolerance policy. Post legalisation employers will instead need to judge the potential consequences of having employees under the influence in the workplace to construct their zero or low tolerance policies. For any high-risk workplace there should be processes in place to make these decisions quickly.
Cannabis reform may or may not happen, the main thing is to make sure that as an employer you are using this time to prepare for any changes you may need to operate business as usual. Putting robust policies in place and having clear expectations of employees will protect you from any issues in regard to substances in the workplace, legal or otherwise.