SAINT JOHN – The country needs a regulatory framework for dealing with marijuana use in the workplace, a J.D. Irving, Limited official told the members of the provincial legislative committee on legalization at a public hearing in Saint John Tuesday.
“It’s about the safety of our employees,” said Chris MacDonald, director of government relations with JDI. “It’s also a public safety issue because we have truck drivers, train conductors and captains of vessels.”
JDI is part of a loose coalition of organizations and companies that includes the Canadian Alliance of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), and Canadian Trucking Alliance. MacDonald says they all share the same concerns about the effects of marijuana, which he said include slower reaction times and diminished vigilance.
The committee, made up of members of the government and opposition, is in the midst of public consultations after a provincial working group report was published last month. Committee members were in Saint John today and will be in Moncton Wednesday and Fredericton on Friday.
MacDonald says J.D. Irving is also concerned about how legalization could affect trade with the U.S., and it wants the country to take steps to address safety concerns that could be raised by the U.S.
“Obviously with Mr. Trump, things have changed dramatically,” MacDonald told the committee. “Canada on this issue is going in a very different direction than the United States. We just want to make sure there aren’t repercussions from a trade perspective.”
MacDonald said Canada should adopt safety policies and practices already in place south of the border. He said the U.S. has had legislated drug and alcohol testing in the federally regulated transportation sector for more than 20 years, and Canada should be aligned with the U.S. on this issue.
He did say Americans already require Canadian companies to comply with the U.S. standards, and that JDI has a mandatory drug and alcohol testing program in place for “safety-sensitive” positions.
JDI has employees that use medical marijuana
Marilyn Wornell, the company’s drug & alcohol program manager, said they have experience dealing with medical marijuana, which has been legal for more than a decade.
“There have been a few cases we’ve dealt with over the last couple of years,” Wornell told the committee. “Some have come out of a post-incident situation where there’s been a significant workplace injury. As per the policy, there has been post-incident testing and [we] found out they were using marijuana medically.
“At that point, we would work with their treating physician to ensure there is a fitness for duty, and if there is an accommodation required – perhaps they can’t do their safety-sensitive job any longer.”
There have also been instances where employees were upfront about their medical marijuana use, said Wornell, and it didn’t have a negative impact on workplace performance.
“There are other cases where employees are taking it legitimately, and they are able to continue in their role because it’s not safety-sensitive. But they have disclosed that to us,” she said.
MacDonald said the company isn’t concerned about employees who may work in less safety-sensitive positions “like the IT department.”
They want a regulatory framework to deal with workers who are potential threats to other employees and the public.
In addition to a legislated framework for testing, JDI and its coalition partners want the federal government to adopt a “reliable, minimally invasive, legally defensible” roadside test for impairment, and establish a “cut-off” for impairment much like the .08 blood-alcohol limit for people who drink and drive.
MacDonald said workplaces like JDI have had to contend with this issue for more than 20 years, but they’re concerned with the increased use of marijuana that will come with a legal recreational market in 2018.
“We’ve been testing for marijuana since 1995 because our truckers cross the border,” McDonald told reporters after the consultation. “There’s nothing new about marijuana use. There’s nothing new about medical marijuana… We just think we’re going to have much more of it, and that’s the real concern.”