Managing Cannabis in the Workplace

MC&A April Newsletter 2018

MC&A April Newsletter – Managing Cannabis in the Workplace

Health conditions treated with medical cannabis:

  • Insomnia
  • Pain (migraines, cancer-related pain, chronic pain, etc.)
  • PTSD, depression and anxiety
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Inflammation
  • Seizures and spasms
  • ADD / ADHD
  • Addiction
  • Arthritis, Cancer, Parkinson’s, Epilepsy, Multiple sclerosis, Chron’s and Colitis, Fibromyalgia, Glaucoma, etc.

Facts and Misconceptions:

  • Legal medical cannabis sources; licensed producers vs. dispensaries
  • Medical cannabis has been legal for almost 20 years; medically-authorized cannabis has been legal in Canada since 1999
  • Cannabis does not need to be smoked; patients can use medical cannabis in many forms, such as capsules, oils and topical creams
  • Studies show that patients who use medical cannabis can decrease their use of opioid-based medications

Employer Considerations:

Risks Accountabilities Considerations
  • Impairment in the workplace
  • Health and safety incidents
  • Mishandled accommodation requests
  • Mishandled benefits coverage requests
  • Duty to accommodate: medical use and addiction
  • Develop and communicate drug and alcohol policy
  • Educate Management, HR and Safety staff; ensure they are equipped to handle cannabis in the workplace
  • Develop plans for safety-sensitive and non safety-sensitive roles
  • Be prepared to discuss cannabis coverage on benefits plans
  • Cross-functional team case studies: test policy application

Drug and Alcohol Policy Considerations:

Updating drug and alcohol policies

  • Importance of a balanced, reasonable policy
  • No one size fits all approach; customization is required
  • Clarify expectations for employees beforehand

The role of cross-functional teams in policy development

  • Involving unions, management, OHS, HR and legal is key

Objectives of policies

  • Clearly outline expectations, roles / responsibilities and protocols

Ensure a thorough workplace analysis is completed prior to developing policies

  • Safety-sensitive vs. non-safety-sensitive roles
  • Identify protocols and contact points

Cannabis Coverage:


  • Cannabis coverage largely through HSAs and EHB
  • To date, focus has been on Workplace drug and alcohol policies – not benefits coverage
  • Employers / insurers starting to explore alternate coverage models outside of HSAs and EHB, such as: Prior Authorization Programs and PINs
  • Uncertainty and confusion for most employers and insurers re: cannabis coverage
  • Large insurers starting to launch cannabis coverage products to Canadian market


  • The majority of large and medium-sized insurers will launch cannabis products in 2018
  • Many more employers expected to start covering Cannabis in 2018
  • Greater use of core coverage for medical cannabis, including PINs
  • Ongoing medical data generation will assist in improving coverage
  • Potential impact of recreational market on medical cannabis coverage

Considerations – Medical Cannabis Coverage:

  1. Core health benefit or extended health benefit?
  2. Coverage parameters; broad coverage or limited to certain conditions?
  3. What is an appropriate annual coverage amount?
  4. What products should be covered?
  5. Employee education and support
  6. Safety and HR impact of cannabis coverage

Current Medical Cannabis Coverage Structure Options:

  1. Customized Prior Authorization Program
  2. HCSA, general (cannabis identified as eligible expense)
  3. HCSA, cannabis-specific
  4. Extended health benefits coverage with annual budget
  5. PIN coverage model (product identification number)
  6. Core health benefit with broad, formula-based coverage; with or without annual budget
  7. Coverage through EAP exclusively

Key Highlights for Employers:

  1. Employers are not expected or required to accommodate impairment in the workplace
  2. When conducting an accommodation analysis for medical cannabis; ensure you are informed of the dosing plan, type of product, CBD and THC content, and whether or not the employee is in safety-sensitive position or non-safety-sensitive position
  3. Medical authorization expirations should be tracked by employers
  4. There is no definitive impairment test for cannabis; a conservative guide is 12 hours for inhalation and up to 24 hours for ingestion – but this is not universally accepted
  5. The Canadian cannabis industry is fast-moving; ongoing monitoring of legislation and announcements is important for employers
  6. Take your time when managing workplace cannabis issues; when in doubt, seek SME opinion

excerpts provided by: Government of Canada 2017

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