Preparing the Workplace for Increased Access to Cannabis in Ontario


For many people residing in Ontario, cannabis legalization has been an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ experience. Cannabis is about to become much more accessible across the province with three significant events already underway this year:

  1. Cannabis retail store locations are opening across the province, as of April 1st

  2. Shoppers Drug Mart launched its online platform for the sale of medical cannabis on January 8th

  3. Health Canada is currently running an open consultation regarding regulations for edibles, extracts, and topicals, with sales anticipated fall 2019 

As cannabis becomes more visible and accessible in communities, Ontario employers are once again wondering if their workplace is protected.

How are municipalities being impacted by recreational cannabis?

On Friday evening the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) announced the winners of the Cannabis Retail Lottery. Although municipalities have a deadline of January 22nd, the public notice process begins for those that have opted-in.

Ontario has been divided into five regions; each assigned a specific number of stores. Store authorizations will only be available in municipalities with a population of 50,000 or more, with exception to those that opt-out.


How much of a concern is cannabis in the workplace?

 Cannabis, like any impairment-causing substance, presents workplace safety hazards. However, unlike other substances, cannabis is complex and still widely misunderstood. People can have an individualized response, which can lead to unpredictable results if misused.

Currently, there are no tests for active impairment; instead tests confirm recent use. With access increasing in Ontario, employers should proactively prepare with education and policy to manage workplace impairment.

While recreational cannabis consumption is prohibited in the Ontario workplace, within the meaning of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employees with medical authorization may be permitted. The Ontario Human Rights Code requires employers to engage in a mutual process of workplace accommodation.

Managing medical cannabis becomes a balancing act between maintaining a safe work environment and the duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship.

Protect your business and employees

1.  Policy: Most standard drug and alcohol policies aren’t comprehensive enough to protect against the unique issues that can arise from cannabis.

  • Update policies and supporting processes to reflect current Canadian legislation and case law around cannabis and other impairment causing substances.

  • Update terms and definitions to accurately describe and address impairment-causing substances (licit and illicit, prescription and non-prescription).

  • Prohibit recreational cannabis use in the workplace for all roles.

  • Prohibit impairment in the workplace for all roles and reinforce safety reporting procedures.

  • Carefully consider zero tolerance provisions in safety sensitive environments, as outlined in Aitchison v L&L Painting and Decorating Ltd., 2018 HRTO 238  

  •  Set out the responsibilities for both employer and employees, including the requirement to disclose use of impairment-causing substances for safety sensitive roles.

  • Include requirements for employees to submit to pre-employment, reasonable suspicion, or post-incident drug testing, where justifiable.

  • Add a limit on the acceptable amount of cannabis in an employee’s system and ensure that limit is measurable through drug testing.

  • Establish violation consequences and ensure consistent enforcement.

 2. Communication: Workplace policies should be communicated and formally acknowledged by the employee before it’s enforceable.

  • Proactively identify safety sensitive roles and build communication into employment milestones. For example, clarify in job offers that a role is safety sensitive and will require disclosure of any impairment-causing substance.

  • Review the policy in full and require employees to sign a written acknowledgment to confirm understanding and agreement.

  • Enforce follow-up review and acknowledgement on an annual basis or following a significant near-miss or post-incident.

3. Education: Education should be delivered to both leaders and employees on policy, process, hazards, responsibilities, and cannabis impairment.

  • Dialogue should be non-judgmental and interactive, which supports an open communication and prevents a culture of fear and secrecy.    

  • Delivery should be conducted by a qualified facilitator who is knowledgeable in cannabis impairment, drug testing, and related legislation.

  • Leaders should be equipped with knowledge and tools to recognize and manage cases of impairment.

  • Provide information on support resources, such as access to an Employee Assistance Program.

Need help or more information?

Contact Erin Gratton, CHRL at You will catch her speaking about managing cannabis in the Ontario workplace on January 23rd at the Ontario Camps Association conference in Markham, Ontario.