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Edmonton conference addresses pot in the workplace

About 150 businesses have signed up to talk drug testing and other concerns.

Alison McMahon, Chair of Women Grow's Edmonton Chapter and CEO of Cannabis at Work.

Kevin Tuong/For Metro

Alison McMahon, Chair of Women Grow's Edmonton Chapter and CEO of Cannabis at Work.

Drug testing at work could get a whole lot more complicated with the looming legalization of marijuana.

About 150 Alberta businesses have signed up for an Edmonton conference that will provide tools and strategies around drug testing and other work-related marijuana issues, as workers and employers spar over safety concerns and human rights violations.

“I get employees who reach out to me on a pretty consistent basis looking for information so they can understand their rights and responsibilities on the issue,” said Cannabis at Work Founder and CEO Alison McMahon, who will run the March 10 conference.

“There are a lot of employers who don’t seem to understand their responsibilities around accommodating on the human rights side, and they are firing people or suggesting to them that they should go on other medications.”

McMahon also runs the Edmonton chapter of Women Grow, a group that supports female entrepreneurs in the cannabis sector.

She said one of the key issues in the workplace is that there is no test to measure active impairment, since marijuana stays in a person’s system so much longer than alcohol.

That is putting some employers in situations where they wind up firing an otherwise good employee who, for example, used cannabis on the weekend but can’t pass a drug test on Monday.

Earl Shindruk, president of health insurance provider Optimax Solutions, said he has already seen several instances of employees being fired over cannabis use and then settling out of court after arguing their human rights were violated.

“It’s a really touchy area,” Shindruk said.

“There’s no specific test for impairment for it yet. Without those tests, how do you know that somebody’s high? Alcohol it’s .08 but with marijuana, who knows what it should be?”

Some insurance providers have refused to cover medical cannabis in the past because it doesn’t have a drug identification number, but that can no longer be used as a defence based on recent cases.

Shindruk said the legalization of recreational marijuana, expected this spring from the federal government, will only amplify workplace issues.

“It’s hitting our industry, and eventually, if not sooner than later, all the insurance companies will have to be paying claims for medical marijuana,” he said.

“I really feel our clients need to be aware of it, especially for safety reasons.”

Lauren Stheit is an HR specialist with King Accounting Solutions, which works with clients in the medical field and trades, and she said she gets plenty of questions around cannabis in the workplace.

“What I’m interested to see is how is testing going to be performed for this. Obviously the drug and alcohol testing procedures for oilfield companies may need to change,” she said.

“It’s kind of this new topic that makes people nervous, and I think the only way to get rid of that fear is to be educated and educate ourselves as a business.”

The Medical Cannabis at Work conference will take place March 10 at Shaw Conference Centre.

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