August 1, 2018
Lee Ann Knudsen
Lee Ann Knudsen

Cannabis, reefer, weed, pot, marijuana …

Elephant in the room

There is broad agreement, both within and outside the industry, that marijuana use is common among Canadian landscaping and horticulture workers. With nationwide legalization scheduled for Oct. 17, plenty of business owners are wondering if staying in business will become even more challenging — and asking questions that have no answers:

What if my employee causes an accident, hurting somebody or worse, and evidence points to cannabis?
I hear the active ingredient lingers for months; when will the law define cannabis impairment?
Will legal cannabis make it even tougher for landscaping to project a professional image?

I SPOKE WITH SEVERL CONTRACTORS about their hopes and fears related to pot, guaranteeing anonymity since the issue is so sensitive.

One contractor had heard of problems in other companies, but is not worried, trusts his staff, and believes those who indulge in recreational drugs or alcohol during the weekend do not let it interfere with work.

Current policies in place on drugs and alcohol will cover me, believes another contractor. His rules are firm, employees are required to acknowledge them, and infraction is grounds for immediate dismissal. He noted that when Prohibition ended, predictions called for massive and universal public drunkenness — which did not happen. However, this business owner did say his general manager has concerns.

“Four years ago, we had a session on this in the shop,” said another contractor. “We stressed that every employee is responsible to report unsafe conditions.” Conditions including drug impairment, which could result in somebody getting hurt or killed. “We raised visibility, and got some problems corrected. We said,  ‘You are the eyes out there. If you see it, you own it.’”

This contractor was professional about acknowledging responsibility for accommodating medical marijuana use, but clear that such an employee is “unsuitable for 95 per cent of the work we do. I have been around the block.” He was also aware that his company might have exposure through sub-trades. The company is waiting for things to settle a bit before deciding whether changes to current drug and alcohol policies are needed. He noted his current policy worked fine, when needed to fire an employee who decided to pack weed in his lunch.

SO WHILE NOBODY seemed to be in a panic, marijuana is asserting itself everywhere these days, just like a smoke cloud. Statistics Canada released some survey results in May that provide hard numbers to paint a sobering picture.

You can find the piece on, “Association between the frequency of cannabis use and selected social indicators.” When broken out by type of work or occupation, the very highest rate of cannabis use occurred among the employment group “Trades, transport and equipment operators and related.” Of survey participants in this group, 5.3 per cent reported using cannabis at least two to six times a week. This is not only the highest rate among employment groups, it is even higher than “No occupation.”

The survey goes on to show association between cannabis use and physical or mental health disability. While Canadians in general have a high level of trust in police and the justice system, frequent cannabis use is associated with lower confidence in those institutions. Frequent cannabis users are also more likely to report they have been victims of violent crime.

FROM A CONTRACTOR'S PERSPECTIVE, threats are in the air from the elephant in the room — legalized cannabis. It feels like yet another burden for business owners who sincerely believe horticulture promotes health, beauty and nature. Nobody knows how legalized cannabis will affect your ability to keep responsible staff, or to protect your company.