04/28/2017 04:36 EDT | Updated 10/10/2018 16:37 EDT

Legal Marijuana Is Going To Change The Canadian Workplace

On April 13, the Liberal government unveiled a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana in Canada by July 2018. If passed, the legislation would allow people over the age of 18 to buy marijuana. What does this mean for your job (and career prospects)?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have reneged on his promise about electoral reform, but he does seem to be sticking to another pledge: legalizing marijuana.

On April 13, the Liberal government unveiled a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana in Canada by July 2018. If passed, the legislation would allow people over the age of 18 to buy marijuana, publicly possess as much as 30 grams of cannabis and grow up to four plants (per residence).

(Photo: Hitmanphoto via Getty Images)

What does this mean for your job (and career prospects)? Here are a few things you need to know about weed in the workplace.

This affects a lot of people

According to a poll by the Weed Blog (your source for "Marijuana news and information"), 10 per cent of Americans report smoking weed before going to work. If that sounds puffed up, consider that in 2012, 12 per cent of Canadians (aged 15 or older) had reported using it in the past year.

Currently, there are 75,166 patients registered under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations, and according to Health Canada, the total number of patients in the program is expected to reach 450,000 by 2024. Add to that an additional 900,000 Canadians likely to smoke pot at least once a month if the new legislation is passed, and you suddenly have a lot of pot users.

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It may create a large amount of new jobs

A study by Deloitte estimates that the cannabis market may soon become a $22.6-billion industry in Canada, encompassing a variety of different sectors and ancillary markets.

This could translate into big opportunities for job seekers. In fact, a report from New Frontier Data projected that the cannabis industry will create a quarter of a million jobs in the U.S. by 2020.

For an example of the nascent industry's impact on the retail front, one just has to look at the explosion of (over anxious) dispensaries across the country last year. In Toronto alone, 121 dispensaries were in operation before the city began cracking down.

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Weed-friendly companies already exist

Colorado has become something of a model for legalization, adding $2.4 billion and 18,005 full-time jobs to the state's economy in 2016. It may also prove to be the testing ground for a wider acceptance of pot use in the workplace. Colorado companies Flowhub (a software provider for the cannabis industry), MassRoot and High There! (both social networks for weed users) all allow employees to bring weed-infused edibles and beverages to work.

"If it helps our employees get work done, then we don't care if they consume at work," Kyle Sherman, co-founder of Flowhub, told CNN.

So far there is (admittedly anecdotal) evidence to suggest it's working for them: Flowhub has processed close to $200 million in cannabis purchases and raised an additional $3.25 million in investor funding.

These companies may be quirky outliers, but according to a 2015 survey, a fifth of small business owners said they would allow employees with medical marijuana prescriptions to use cannabis at work, indicating that mentalities might be shifting. In fact, Elite Daily felt the need to publish the "Productive smoker's guide to smoking marijuana on the job," which suggests sticking to the Sativa strains and and keeping a "stoner kit" in the office.

Your employer has a duty to accommodate medical usage

If you have a prescription for medicinal marijuana, your employer is responsible for accommodating you.

"It's no different than any other accommodation -- whether it's accommodating someone with a bad back or a religious observance,"says Stuart Rudner, a founding partner of Rudner Macdonald LLP, which specializes in Canadian employment law.

The onus, however, is on you to tell your employer.

"Companies need to understand how much it's going to impair you."

-- Stuart Rudner, Rudner Macdonald LLP

"There's a somewhat misguided view that privacy laws mean you don't have to provide details. It's quite the opposite, the courts have been very clear that if you're seeking accommodation, you have to provide sufficient information to allow the employer to assess whether there's a need -- and if so, what viable options exist. You don't have to provide anything more than that, but you do have to provide enough information for the employer to make a decision," Rudner says.

To help make these decisions, many companies use functional ability forms to understand things like how long a person can stand or the amount of weight they can lift.

"It's a bit different in the context of marijuana, but what they can ask you is how often you expect to use marijuana, and what will the impact be on you ability to do your job?" Rudner says.

It may, however, fall to medical professionals to assess your degree of impairment.

"One Tylenol is the same as every other Tylenol; but one gram of marijuana is very different from another gram of marijuana. It depends on how long it's been grown, where it's been grown and a bunch of other factors. So companies need to understand how much it's going to impair you, and that might be up to a doctor to provide that information," Rudner says.

No one is really sure why marijuana was illegal in the first place

Why marijuana is illegal in Canada is something of a mystery. When Mackenzie King's Liberal government introduced an Act to Prohibit the Improper Use of Opium and other Drugs, in 1923, Canada became one of the first countries to make smoking pot illegal. The odd thing is that very few people smoked it in Canada at the time. There were, in fact, no references to marijuana in the Toronto Star or the Globe and Mail in 1923.

So why was this decision made?

"If it's legal like alcohol, they'll adapt to that reality... they'll have no choice."

-- Stuart Rudner, Rudner Macdonald LLP

Many have pointed to a 1922 book called The Black Candle by Emily F. Murphy, a judge who wrote for Maclean's magazine. Murphy was also, for lack of a better term, crazy. She believed that Africans, Arabs, Chinese, Greeks and Mexicans, among other immigrant groups, had formed something called The Ring, which aimed to corrupt the purity of the white race by flooding the streets with drugs.

The best-selling Black Candle featured a seven-page chapter called "Marahuana - A New Menace," which quoted Charles A. Jones, Los Angeles' chief of police. Jones claimed that smokers lose all moral responsibility, becoming raving maniacs who are "liable to kill or indulge in any form of violence to other persons, using the most savage methods of cruelty... they are dispossessed of their natural and normal willpower and their mentality is that of idiots."

There is no solid evidence that this book lead to the illegality of marijuana, but given its popularity, it likely helped create a negative stigma for weed and its users -- one that still persists today.

"With time, these views will change," Rudner says.

"People will understand that marijuana is an accepted form of medication, and if it's legal like alcohol, they'll adapt to that reality... they'll have no choice."

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