May 2, 2017

Marijuana in the Workplace

Any discussion about marijuana must first acknowledge that there are two different facets:  recreational marijuana and medical marijuana.  Different uses require different approaches to how to address marijuana in the workplace.

Recreational Use

Marijuana remains an illicit drug.  Legislation has been tabled but not yet passed decriminalizing the possession, distribution, and/or use of the drug.  Corporate policies governing alcohol and drug use would also apply to marijuana now and in the event of its decriminalization.
The standard that is applied for discipline is not that of use but rather of intoxication in the workplace.  The challenge lies in how to determine intoxication. With alcohol, a simple test will tell you if an employee has a blood alcohol level above a set threshold.  However, with marijuana, the effects can remain in the system for up to 24 hours but the level and duration of intoxication can vary widely by person making it difficult to determine. 

Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana is permitted by law.  It is dispensed and delivered by the government to ensure safety.  
It may be taken in various forms – oral, topical creams, and the traditional way – inhaling.  It is often used to manage chronic pain, sleeplessness, and to help alleviate the effects of chemotherapy.
Like any employee suffering a medical condition who continues to work, an employer must accommodate their requirements up to the point of undue hardship.  This may include providing a secure place to administer treatment and store their medicine.  This may also involve keeping other employees safe from second-hand smoke and ensuring the distinctive smell of marijuana does not impact others.   If the employee is in a safety-sensitive position, the employee may require modified duties.
Medical marijuana has not been issued a Drug Identification Number (DIN) by Health Canada.  This means that it is not typically covered by a group insurance plan.  Most plans require a prescription to include a DIN before it is considered to be eligible. 
However there have been cases where it has been covered.  In one such instance, the employee was a member of a Health and Welfare Trust and the plan repeatedly declined the claim based on the fact that it did not have a DIN.  The language of that trust did not specifically require a prescription to have a DIN in order to be eligible.  As such, the plan was required to cover the cost as it would any other eligible drug expense. 
Health Care Spending Accounts do not typically have the same restrictions as a traditional plan. Subsequently prescriptions without a DIN are eligible.

Benefit Policy Review

Employers need to establish whether medical marijuana is something they wish to cover under their plan and make sure that the language of their policies reflects that position.  For the most part, until a DIN is issued by Health Canada, medical marijuana is not an eligible expense.  Once this changes, insurance companies will have to determine if it is something that they will include on their standard drug formularies (list of covered drugs) and if so, if it will be treated as a special authorization drug and/or a treatment of last resort requiring medical evidence before approving coverage.
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