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article imageLegalized marijuana and the workforce — Two sides to the story

By Karen Graham     Jan 31, 2018 in World
Some businesses in Canada are already growing concerned over the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. The added cost of drug testing is the chief concern.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants marijuana to be legalized by this summer, in keeping with his campaign promise made in 2015. Quite a number of Canada's larger marijuana producers are already gearing up for the move, jockeying for a good position in what is expected to be a booming market.
According to Canadian law, medical marijuana use is legal in Canada with a doctor's prescription, otherwise, the possession, production, and trafficking of marijuana are prohibited under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Currently, there are 88 Health Canada licenses for the cultivation and sale of medical cannabis held by 80 companies.
The number of registered users of medical marijuana in Canada jumped 40 percent over the last six months, according to Bloomberg on January 4, citing statistics from Health Canada. There are over 235, 600 registered cannabis users, or about 0.6 percent of the country's 37 million people.
The bud of a Cannabis sativa flower coated with trichomes bearing cannabidiol and other cannabinoids...
The bud of a Cannabis sativa flower coated with trichomes bearing cannabidiol and other cannabinoids.
Psychonaught via Wikimedia
Cannabis industry - One side of the story
In the past year, the number of people looking for jobs in the cannabis industry in Canada soared over 320 percent. Canopy Growth Corporation, one of the country's larger cannabis growers currently employs about 750 people. But they anticipate quadrupling their workforce "in the near future," according to VICE News.
Aurora Cannabis, the country’s second-largest marijuana producer, employs 450 people and they expect that number to grow to 1,000 next year. “We’re going to need all kinds of people — harvesters, technologists, scientists, people with MA’s and Ph.D.’s, and people with a business background,” Aurora’s Chief Corporate Officer Cam Battley told VICE News.
File photo: Growing cannabis for medical use demands careful supervision of active ingredients such ...
File photo: Growing cannabis for medical use demands careful supervision of active ingredients such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which gives recreational users their high but is not recommended for all patients, particularly children
Jack Guez, AFP
However, there are already critics of the hiring process in the marijuana industry. And while it is important to have "business students, agricultural workers for the production team, an in-house marketing, and creative team, lab workers, engineers and customer service staff," as Canopy’s Jordan Sinclair told VICE News, the critics point to the illegal growers.
Because of their history of growing pot illegally, critics say "qualified" pot growers will be shut out of the job market because of their criminal records.
Workforce dilemma - The other side of the story
Many employers who long-ago adopted drug and alcohol testing for high-risk jobs, are very concerned about the legalization of marijuana.
For example, the trucking industry began drug and alcohol screening in the 1990s after the U.S., Canada's biggest trading partner, requested this be done. Drug and alcohol screening spread to the oil patch as more American companies started building energy projects in places like Alberta.
Blackgold Project in 2017.
Blackgold Project in 2017.
Harvest Operations
Tim Salter, executive director of the Drug and Alcohol Testing Association of Canada said most energy companies run urine or saliva tests for drugs and alcohol when screening job applicants and sometimes test employees before they can enter certain critical sites. Employees are also tested if impairment due to drugs is suspected or there has been an accident.
Adding marijuana to the list of drugs being tested for will raise the costs of testing for employers, and one of the biggest challenges may be the active ingredients in marijuana can remain in a person’s bloodstream for weeks, long after the high is gone. And there is no test that can tell you if that joint was smoked over the weekend or on your way to work.
The energy sector is seeing a rebound and energy companies need more workers. However, they are already having a hard time hiring enough qualified people to handle physically demanding work while requiring them being stuck in remote locations. And this does matter because energy accounts for 7.0 percent of the economy.
In the state of Colorado, where the recreational use of marijuana became legal in 2014, "the state made sure companies could terminate or refuse to hire workers who fail drug tests for safety-sensitive positions," according to Carrie Jordan, president of the DJ Basin Safety Council.
Alaska became the third American state to allow the recreational use of marijuana  following in the ...
Alaska became the third American state to allow the recreational use of marijuana, following in the steps of Colorado and Washington state -- and soon to be joined by Oregon
Robyn Beck, AFP/File
Jordan says the council advises employers to be very clear on zero-tolerance policies. “The industry is very resilient,” Jordan said. “They’re going to figure out a way to make it work.” Jordon also says there has been an increase in worksite accidents, including slips, falls and slow reactions to emergency situations, but she didn't have data to back the statement.
Digital Journal did some research and found that workforce drug abuse is on the rise, and this includes taking into account states where marijuana use has been legalized. A Quest Diagnostics report issued in 2017 analyzed over 10 million workforce urine test results. The company noted an increase across the board for cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamines.
Specifically talking about marijuana, "positive oral drug tests increased nearly 75 percent to 8.9 percent in 2016, up from 5.1 percent in 2013. Appearance in both urine and hair tests increased as well. These results largely are a result of the legalization of recreational drug use," according to researchers.
The Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index (DTI), has been published annually since 1988 and includes information on three categories of workers: federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers, the general workforce and the combined U.S. workforce.
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