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This article was published 28/11/2018 (418 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
More than 100 members of Winnipeg's business community spent Wednesday coming to grips with marijuana legalization, as the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce hosted a "Cannabis and the Workplace" conference in response to growing curiosity from its members.
"Our members have been asking us numerous questions, seeking where they can find information," said chamber president and CEO Loren Remillard, during an interview between panels at the downtown convention centre.
"Not out of fear, just wanting to make sure that as a workplace, they're ready to deal with it."
Manitoba's many small and medium-sized business have been particularly hungry to learn about what cannabis legalization means for them, Remillard said, especially since many of them aren't big enough to have human resources departments.
But one HR expert felt she had something to learn from the conference. Susan Black, the director of HR and general manager at accounting and consulting firm FH Black, said she wanted to gain a better understanding of how to recognize cannabis impairment at the office.
"I really don't have enough of a sense to know if an employee is impaired or not… I need to have some tools," she said, adding that her company just implemented a workplace impairment policy in response to cannabis legalization.
Workplace impairment was also top of mind for Lynne Skromeda, executive director of the Winnipeg Folk Festival, as she prepares for next year's event.
"Because I think there's a perception that there's a little bit more of a free-for-all environment at the festival, but we are a workplace where (almost all) of our staff are volunteers," she said.
"So they have to remember that, even though it's a fun place to be, we still have a job to do."
It's possible to accommodate the use of medical cannabis in the workplace, said Dr. Joss Reimer, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's medical officer of health, who led a session about the health effects of cannabis.
"It depends on what your job is. As a surgeon, as a pilot, as someone who operates heavy machinery, no impairment would be safe… but if it's somebody who's doing paperwork, or data entry, or something like that, it might be possible that they can function at a reasonable level while using cannabis, but that's something that has to be individually assessed."
"As a surgeon, as a pilot, as someone who operates heavy machinery, no impairment would be safe… but if it's somebody who's doing paperwork, or data entry, or something like that, it might be possible that they can function at a reasonable level while using cannabis, but that's something that has to be individually assessed." -Dr. Joss Reimer
Cannabis is "a drug like any other," Reimer said, and drug use is a normal human behaviour. At the very least, she said, decreasing the stigma around the drug and moving away from criminalization is a step forward for public health.
Lifting that stigma also opens new doors for substance abuse treatment, said Joel Gervais, an addictions and training specialist with clinic operator CBI Health Group who was due to present on responsible cannabis use. Cannabis use in the workplace is nothing new, he said, especially in certain industries such as construction and hospitality.
"It's just this cultural norm," he said. "So now, we can lift it away from the illegal (aspect) and actually have a good conversation about it, and start to talk about: what are the potential harms?"
Gervais said he hasn't noticed much of a change in his line of work since legalization took place in mid-October. But given time, he expects that changing social norms around cannabis could encourage more people to seek treatment for problematic marijuana use — and the workplace can be a good place to start, he said.
"Because that's where people spend a lot of time, and as an employer, I'm going to notice changes."
"I think your people are using cannabis, have used cannabis, always... So if you haven't noticed a problem with your employees before, in my personal opinion, I don't think you're going to notice much of a difference (after legalization)." -Patrick Witcher
As the stigma around cannabis dissipates, employers might also have to consider how employee cannabis use could affect their company's brand, said Adam Dooley, owner and president of public relations firm Dooley PR. For example, what if an employee who deals with the public posts social media photos of themselves using cannabis outside of work hours?
That probably wouldn't be an issue for his five employees, Dooley said.
"If it's just reflecting their own personal use — first of all, legally, I have no reason to be angry at them. And personally, why should I care?"
But if that employee's social media post showed bad behaviour such as using cannabis while driving, Dooley said, that could be a different story.
One speaker at Wednesday's conference suggested employers might have more cannabis-using workers than they realize. Patrick Witcher, who was formerly employed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, is a vice-president with cannabis producer GrowForce.
After legalization in his home state of Colorado, he said, he was surprised to learn how many people used marijuana.
"I think your people are using cannabis, have used cannabis, always," Witcher told the audience during his keynote speech.
"So if you haven't noticed a problem with your employees before, in my personal opinion, I don't think you're going to notice much of a difference (after legalization)."
Solomon Israel is a full-time reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press and for two years, the lead writer for Free Press cannabis news site, The Leaf News. He continues to provide coverage of the cannabis beat while covering business in the city and province.
Updated on Thursday, November 29, 2018 at 9:53 AM CST: Clarifies that almost all Winnipeg Folk Festival staff are volunteers