Federal regulations permit access to marijuana for medical purposes, and the use of marijuana can become a complicated issue in the workplace. Importantly, the Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled that patients approved under the regulations should have access to all forms of cannabis products, including edible or topical cannabis products, as opposed to only marijuana in dried form. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, and given the health risks associated with smoking, employees who are medically authorized to use marijuana may choose to rely on alternative means of administering their doses, such as by brewing marijuana leaves in tea or incorporating cannabis into baked goods.

The broadening of approved forms of marijuana for medical users raises several potential workplace issues, including: (1) the enforcement of drug policies, (2) the duty to accommodate under human rights legislation, and (3) employee privacy concerns relating to his or her authorized use of marijuana for medical purposes.

The first two of these issues were recently discussed in a decision by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal. In this case, the employer enforced its “zero tolerance” drug policy by requiring an employee to stop smoking marijuana while at work. The employee was a cancer patient who stated that he smoked marijuana as a means of pain-management. However, despite the employee’s alleged use of the drug for medical purposes, the employee did not have a medical prescription or the required legal authorization for medical marijuana. Because the employee was not legally authorized to use marijuana for medical purposes, the Tribunal held that the employer’s enforcement of its drug policy did not contravene the British Columbia Human Rights Code. This case serves as an example of the interplay between the legal regime regulating medical marijuana and employment policies regulating drug use and health and safety at work.

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