Despite a few employee victories across the country, states continue to allow employers to punish employees for off-work use of marijuana—even if they are medical marijuana users. Oregon and California tried and failed to pass legislation to protect off-work use of marijuana. The federal government even tried to protect off-work use for medical marijuana. Despite the efforts, a majority of states with legal marijuana allow employers to terminate employee for off-work marijuana use. Our neighbors to the north, however, seem to be moving in the opposite direction.
Canada legalized the sale and use of marijuana earlier this year and is set to begin legal sales on October 17. It’s only the second country to fully legalize at the national level. Along with Canada’s progressive views on marijuana, comes progressive views on public employees’ use of marijuana. To wit, the Vancouver Police Department (“VPD”) has officially approved off-work marijuana use.
Initially, back in early August, the VPD proposed a 24-hour pre-shift period of abstinence. Instead of immediately accepting or rejecting the proposal, the VPD did its research. The VPD issued a report noting that cannabis can affect individuals to different degrees and THC remains in an individuals system despite the individual no longer feeling the effects. Specifically the VPD rejected any pre-shift abstinence period, finding that:
specifying a time frame can create an implicit approval that that this period of abstinence is all that’s required to ensure fitness for duty…This can lead to unnecessary labour conflicts where employees are fit for duty but have consumed cannabis within this time frame, or where employees are not fit for duty but mistakenly believe they are as they consumed outside this time frame.”
The VPD, much like it does with alcohol, will require officers to refrain from partaking prior to the start of their shift and present “fit-for-duty.” The VPD will also allow officers to possess cannabis during working hours so long as the substance is stored in its original, sealed, and unopened package.
What does this mean for the rest of North America? Not a lot exactly. Canada’s laws, rules, and policies have zero effect in the U.S. or elsewhere. But perhaps Canada’s policies will trickle down. U.S. lawmakers seem to be unable to draft a bill that garners enough support to protect employees’ off-work use of marijuana. Many states, like Oregon, fail because the marijuana remains a controlled substance federally. Unless marijuana is de- or rescheduled, states will continue to struggle to protect employees off work use.
At most, Canada’s legalization may show the United States a way forward. If Canada’s legalization goes smoothly, perhaps federal U.S. lawmakers will realize it can be done and will not continue to cleave to the failed policies of prohibition. At the state level, maybe jurisdictions like Oregon and California can look to Vancouver for guidance on protecting employees’ rights to use marijuana off-work.
VPD has taken a reasonable approach to off-work marijuana use: don’t show up to work impaired. This is the same standard we use with other substances, so why not marijuana? As Canada moves forward with its legalization, let’s hope the U.S. and its states look north for guidance in areas such as employee rights.