Medical Pot a Growing Issue in Alberta Workplaces

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Medical pot a growing issue in Alberta workplaces

While more Canadians are using medical marijuana for myriad issues, it can have an impact on their status in the workplace, as one apprentice found out.

Apprentice ironworker Johnathan Dickson says his union wouldn’t send him out to construction jobs last year while he was using medical marijuana.

While an official with Ironworkers local 720 maintains the situation is far more complicated than that, Dickson’s case illustrates some of the workplace issues — mainly involving safety — related to the growing Canadian consumption of prescription pot.

“In talking with our clients, (medical cannabis) is an issue that’s coming up more and more,” says Cristina Wendel, an Edmonton employment and labour lawyer at Dentons, who cited estimates that 500,000 Canadians will be using the drug for health reasons by 2024.

“It’s a hot topic these days, and people want to hear about it.”

Dickson, 28, was supposed to work as an apprentice on a project near Edmonton in March 2016, but says a sniffer dog detected traces of marijuana on his workbag during first-day orientation and he failed a drug test.

The Ironworkers sent him for treatment. He admits he didn’t have a cannabis-authorization card, which he obtained a short time later and, although in the past he had abused alcohol and cocaine, he says he stopped taking them the previous year.

A doctor said he should stop consuming cannabis for fear of a relapse. The union told him that under workplace safety protocols he needed addiction treatment, and wouldn’t be dispatched to jobs as long as he was consuming medical marijuana.

He eventually found work at energy-industry construction projects through another union, but says a “zero tolerance” approach is unfair for people using the drug for medical rather than recreational reasons.

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