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For some employers, how to treat medical marijuana users in the workplace is a complicated and scary question.

Human resources are often the unsung heroes of companies. They answer difficult questions or address bizarre conflicts that can occur in a workplace. In the US and Canada, where medical marijuana is has been available since the 90’s, companies still don’t know exactly how to handle the ‘new’ medicine. With the legalization of recreational weed and a growing patient base for medical weed, it’s a question that needs answering.

What concerns do employers have about weed in the workplace?

Employers have concerns about medical marijuana, and some of those seem steeped in reefer madness. The Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) put out a paper this year called “Clearing the Haze: the Impacts of Marijuana in the Workplace.”

In the paper, the HRPA lists there members top five concerns:

  1. Operating motor vehicles
  2. Disciplinary Procedures
  3. Decreased work performance
  4. Employees operating heavy machinery
  5. Attendance

Some of those concerns are reasonable, and some are offensive. It makes sense for employers to worry about any of their employees who use any drugs and the effects it may have on their ability to drive or operate heavy machinery. This is a conversation for patients, insurance companies, their doctors, and employers. It doesn’t have an immediate, total solution.

However, concerns of employers that hinge on attendance and performance are offensive and the result of decades of misinformation portraying marijuana users as criminals or addicts. Someone who uses medical marijuana is no more or less likely to show up to work. THC has been shown to increase the production and transmission of dopamine. Medical researchers in Germany also found that cannabis was an effective and well-tolerated treatment for ADD.

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Photo via Feri Kurniawan / EyeEm/ Getty Images

How should employers handle medical marijuana?

The report from the HRPA does give ten recommendations, but they are vague. For example, the first recommendation is, “The government should set a clear legal definition of ‘impairment’ and the grounds under which an employee can be tested for cannabis use. Special considerations for safety-sensitive industries may be necessary.”

Jason Fleming, HR director of MedReleaf, one of Canada’s largest medical marijuana producers, has some more concrete suggestions for marijuana policies at work. “I’ve consistently advised employers to avoid building an entire policy around a particular substance. It’s not sustainable,” he told Collage magazine.

Instead, Fleming thinks employees should categorize substances. This way, employers can move drugs around within an existing policy, instead of having to reinvent their drug policy every time there are legal changes. “As a substance moves from illegal to legal (such as recreational cannabis), it moves to a new category within the framework. There is no need to re-write any part of the policy,” he said.

Employers and employees need to have this conversation.

Obviously, there’s no place for recreational weed for work that is dangerous. However, in office settings, employers should treat cannabis, especially low THC dosing methods like CBD pens, the same way they treat coffee.

The reality is,  people who already use medical marijuana have likely had to sneak it at work for years. No patient should have to hide for fear that they’ll be fired for taking their medication. In many cases, employers should be covering this medication the same way many cover other medications.

In Canada and several US states, there are some rules that say employers must accommodate their employee’s medical needs. For workers with these kinds of protections, now is the time to talk to your employer about medical marijuana. It’s uncomfortable, but medical marijuana is powerful and effective. As long as workers are forced to lie, and employers are kept in the dark, both parties will inevitably suffer.

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