Recreational cannabis will become legal across Canada starting October 17, 2018. The question that many people are wondering now is, can you enjoy consuming cannabis at home without worrying about getting a drug test at work?
Drug testing is a particularly sticky issue with marijuana because the drug lingers in your system for such a long time. One night of heavy consumption can cause you to fail a urine-based THC test weeks afterward.
If you are a regular cannabis user, there is also a risk that pre-employment drug testing will reveal if you have smoked within the past two to three months. So, even if you don’t intend to come to work high, there’s always a chance that some employers placing judgement on you if you tested positive.
Worse, the policies surrounding employee drug testing could become stricter, hurting those who smoke medical marijuana for chronic health symptoms.
Concerns like these have an upside and downside. The upside is that Canada has a stronger history of opposing random drug screenings and invading personal privacy compared to certain neighbours down south.
The downside? That may all soon change if certain Prime Ministers and industries have their way.
THC Drug Test Inaccuracy Is A Prime Concern
The biggest issue with employee drug testing for marijuana in Canada is that employers know all too well the limitations of typical THC test kits. Urine-based kits can detect sufficient amounts of THC to trigger a positive for at least a week after consumption. Heavy cannabis use may end up causing a positive drug test for months.
Blood tests offer a slightly more accurate window. They only detect more recent activity within the past 24 hours for occasional smokers and up to 7-10 days for heavier smokers. Even then, an employer can’t prove that the person who tests positive is high on the job.
“We do not yet have a test that can measure impairment, unlike what we have for alcohol,” associate clinical professor at the University of Alberta Dr. Charl Els told CBC news. “At this point, marijuana testing in the workplace only tests for the presence of the substance.”
That limitation means that current THC test options not only pick up drug use from prior use, but also cannot detect current levels of intoxication. There’s no reliable spectrum of impairment to measure, unlike blood alcohol content (BAC) tests. Employers could potentially accuse someone of being high on the job, obtain a test, receive a positive result and declare that the worker was “too stoned to be working,” while the employee can dispute that they hadn’t consumed cannabis that day.
A few breathalyzer-style tests are currently being experimented with, but there’s no indication of when these products will be reliable enough to hit the market.
The Dilemma with Workplace and Pre-Employment Drug Screenings
Employers and politicians who are interested in cannabis drug test policies face another obstacle – political inertia.
“As the law currently stands, random workplace drug testing is contentious,” writes Huffington Post’s Vancouver-based contributor Sarah E. Leamon.
Instead, employees only get tested in situations when the employer feels it’s necessary.
“More often than not, this means that an employer must have reasonable cause to believe that the employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol while at work,” Leamon elaborates, adding that a workplace accident or misbehavior might prompt such a decision. “So in other words, there has to be some reasonable basis for invading the employees’ privacy in this manner.”
Employers also have to worry about losing out on applicants. Garnet Amundson, CEO of Essential Energy Services Ltd., knows that pre-employment drug testing in Canada for cannabis could discourage perfectly responsible, capable candidates from applying for jobs.
In an interview with the Insurance Journal, Amundson compares it to a situation where “somebody said to us, ‘if you’ve had a drink in the last two months, you’re considered not fit for duty,’” said Amundson, Essential Energy’s Chief Executive Officer.
Constantly turning down or deterring qualified candidates not only puts the company in a bad spot, it could also potentially affect the economy. The energy sector makes up 7% of the Canadian economy, and U.S. exports alone totaled $54 billion in 2016. While some candidates may try to sober up before their drug test, others may avoid applying at businesses that test altogether.
Canadian Employers Look to Mirror U.S. Laws Despite U.S. Employers Relaxing Drug Policies
Issues like candidate availability are why many employers in the U.S. decide to relax their drug policies, at least as far as marijuana is concerned. AutoNation Inc., which is the largest dealer network in the U.S., declared that it would not reject job applicants who tested positive for THC just this past January.
The Denver Post ended pre-employment drug screenings altogether as far back as 2016.
Unions also vehemently oppose random or otherwise unfair drug screenings that could unreasonably give up expectations of privacy and employment security. When the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) began implementing tests for THC with a 10 ng/ml standard, the case went to arbitration with the company union.
Even with these challenges, some political figures are determined to implement checks on drug use for the sake of public safety.
“We examined very closely what we could do as far as testing when there was a bona fide safety requirement,” MP Bill Blair told CBC radio. “In those very limited circumstances, it’s possible.”
Even then, the proposed testing would only center on certain occupations where there are critical safety concerns, especially in regard to the public. But for now, those who smoke marijuana for chronic pain or for fun can breathe easy.