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How Marijuana Legalization will Change Workplace Drug Testing

As the federal government prepares to legalize marijuana in 2017, some employers are left wondering how their workplaces will be protected from the potential consequences. Oil and gas groups have been lobbying for changes to the upcoming legislation, arguing that more measures are needed to prevent individuals under the influence of cannabis from working in safety-sensitive positions. Cameron MacGillivray, CEO of Enform, suggested in a recent interview with CBC that marijuana use should be totally banned at any workplace where marijuana impairment could threaten safety.

Unlike alcohol, there is no clear consensus on what constitutes marijuana impairment. Although urine tests are one common way that testers evaluate impairment, it’s is not the most reliable measure, as THC can remain in your system for days, weeks, or even months after use. THC remains in the blood for only a few hours after smoking, so blood tests can identify past use only if the individual has used cannabis fairly recently, and they are not precise in detecting the degree of impairment.

It is important to remember that, even after legalization, the right of individuals to use marijuana will never override the right of the employer to maintain a safe, drug-free working environment. The competition between safety and productivity at work and protecting the rights and privacy of individual employees might seem impossible to resolve. But that might be changing: new technologies are developing to address the limitations of current drug testing methods.

Using mass spectrometry technology, one Vancouver-based company has been developing a marijuana breathalyzer. Cannabix Technologies claims that the device can detect impairment rather than past use, using technology that can identify molecules of THC on the user’s breath. The device’s handheld size would also allow it to be used in roadside stops by police in much the same way as an alcohol breathalyzer.

A similar product is also being developed at the University of British Columbia, where engineering professor Mina Hoorfar has been working on a marijuana breathalyzing device since 2013 with the help of her PhD student, Mohammad Paknahad. Harfoor says that the device can be used by police, but also has use as a self-administered test so that individuals can gauge for themselves whether they are capable of driving or going to work.

Until these new technologies are refined, tested, and released to the general market, however, we must rely on current testing technologies to protect the Canadian workforce. As the fight to protect workplace safety in the face of changing legislation continues, it may be tough to know how to safely exercise your rights to maintain a drug-free environment at work. For assistance navigating this new legislation, please reach out to one of our SureHire experts: we’re here to help!

Photo credit: halseike via / CC BY