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On October 17, 2018, Canada legalized the production, distribution and sale of recreational cannabis. Several classes of cannabis became legal including fresh and dried flowers, seeds, plants and oils for recreational purposes. At the time, the federal government set a staggered date for legalizing cannabis derived products, such as edible cannabis, to allow for public consultation.

One year later, on October 17, 2019, three new classes of cannabis become legal (with amendments to the Cannabis Regulations):

  • Edible Cannabis: Products containing cannabis that are intended to be consumed in the same manner as food;
  • Cannabis Extracts: Products that are produced using extraction processing methods or by synthesizing phytocannabinoids; and
  • Cannabis Topicals: Products that include cannabis as an ingredient and that are intended to be used on external body surfaces, including skin, hair, and nails.

The newly legalized products are expected to be available online and in stores as early as mid-December 2019. Starting on October 17, 2019, Health Canada will begin accepting applications from federal cannabis licence holders to sell cannabis edibles, concentrates and topicals. Licensed producers must wait 60 days before bringing any new products to the market.

What Employers Need to Know About the New Cannabis Products

Cannabis derived products bring new challenges for employers. In particular, employers will likely have a hard time detecting use by employees since the products closely resemble non-cannabis products. Another trouble spot for employers is that the effects of the new products may be delayed and can be more intense than when cannabis is inhaled.

Employers can often detect when an employee has smoked or vaped cannabis during work or prior to arriving. For example, a manager or coworker may witness the employee doing so or they may smell it directly on or around the employee. By contrast, it may be more difficult to spot that an employee is consuming or applying a cannabis derived product due to the non-distinctive appearance and lack of smell.

Further, the effects of ingested cannabis are different from inhaled cannabis. Feeling an effect from edible cannabis tends to take longer and a high may differ and/or last longer. Given the delayed effect, there is a real risk of unintentional overconsumption of edible products.

Key Takeaways

Employers who haven’t done so already need to become educated about the new products, develop appropriate workplace policies and guidelines, and provide training to identify and manage impairment resulting from both smoking and eating cannabis products. Employers who already have workplace policies and guidelines in place for cannabis use, should review and revise these to ensure they adequately address cannabis derived products. This is especially important for employers who employ individuals in safety-sensitive positions.

Whether your organization will tolerate use up to a certain point or opt for zero tolerance, a cannabis policy is essential. The policy should define what is acceptable use, if any, and delineate disciplinary consequences for use or impairment. Ensuring that employees are aware of the expectations, and repercussions of a failure to meet expectations, will go a long way toward maintaining the environment that you, as the employer, want.