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What’s the buzz?

The imminent legalization of recreational cannabis has credit unions scrambling to create appropriate policy regarding employee use.

The administrative lead up to the legalization of recreational cannabis is becoming quite the buzzkill for many business professionals—particularly when considering employees who deal directly with the public. Will smoking breaks need to be redefined? Should employees disclose its use? Will policies parallel those for medicinal practice? These, among others, are all important questions that credit unions will have to account for as they plan for the implementation of Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, which was passed by Parliament in June.

Last year, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) released an extensive white paper on how best to avoid impairment risk in the workplace. The document outlines various strategies employers can follow to ensure they’re prepared for the upcoming legalization. Based on these CCOHS guidelines, companies should be explicitly defining what is permissible in the workplace as well as ensuring that individuals understand the potential health hazards. However, while the substance may be different, this problem isn’t entirely new; the risk of impairment in the workplace has always been present. Alcohol and medications both pose similar threats in a professional environment, yet there’s still a strong sense of uncertainty and alarm trailing cannabis. The CCOHS paper predicts that the biggest hurdle will likely present itself at the very beginning of legalization, as the novelty of legal recreational use may attract a new wave of users.

So, how are credit unions preparing for cannabis legalization? For Synergy Credit Union (25,000 members, $1.4 billion in assets), the focus lies on education and conversation. “We have a draft policy that is still in the works,” says Erin Close, manager of human resources at Synergy. “Once it’s finalized it will help us navigate the changes ahead,” Close says.

Having a document isn’t enough; discussions around accountability and responsible use are also crucial. “I believe it will take time for traditional views of marijuana to evolve, however, we still have to be cognisant of how it affects the workplace. We will treat it like any other substance that results in impairment. We expect employees to be clear minded and ready to serve our members to the best of their ability.”

Ontario’s Your Neighbourhood Credit Union (52,000 members, $1.7 billion in assets) is also establishing up-to-date measures that reflect shifting times. “We know policies, expectations and laws evolve with time and innovation, so we’re approaching this matter with the same mindset,” says Kate Neff, vice-president of corporate communications and government relations at YNCU. “Our goal is always to be compliant with laws and regulations, with enough room for common sense discussions whenever we find ourselves in a grey area,” Neff says.

With an issue as complex as the legalization of an intoxicant, there’s plenty of grey to be expected. A main source of ambiguity stems from the various degrees of impairment that are possible. Recreational users consume cannabis to achieve a state of euphoria caused by the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which can affect users differently. Effects also vary depending upon whether cannabis is smoked, consumed as an edible, or absorbed in other ways, such as sub-lingual sprays. Peter Santini, YNCU’s chief human resources officer, says that crafting a policy must address all these variants. “We’ll be watching to see whether the government accepts the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario recommendation that there be two regulatory streams: one for recreational and one for medical marijuana. Specific guidance from the government makes drafting good policy that much easier,” Santini says.

Close says that there are also concerns about public reaction. “If a member who doesn’t consume alcohol sees an employee have a cocktail, could it potentially affect the member’s perception of the individual?” For sure. It can be the exact same thing with recreational cannabis.” ◊