Cannabis Legislation: New Challenges and Past Experience

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Legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada and the United States presents new workplace health and safety challenges for employers and employees. In response to the legalization of recreational use in Canada, a workplace safety course, PDC 402: Cannabis Legalization — Workplace Health and Safety, was developed. We spoke with Joanna Tam from Resource Environmental Associates in Toronto, Canada, one of the instructors who will be presenting this course for the first time at AIHce EXP 2019. 

“This legislative change has created understandable interest in the potential impacts on workplace health and safety, and our firm has been providing the course to governmental, private-sector, and military clients,” said Tam, who has attended several AIHce events over the course of her career as an industrial hygienist. 

AIHA: Cannabis legalization is still pretty new. What are some of the challenges created for workplace health and wellness?

Tam: The primary challenge for employers and occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals is, of course, monitoring the workforce for intoxication or behavioral impairment in workplaces with safety-critical operations. Related to this is the challenge of increasing employee understanding of the pharmacological effects of cannabis in its various forms and by different methods of consumption — e.g., timing and intensity of effects from smoking versus ingestion — and how this might affect safety in the workplace. Also, as you mention, legalization is still pretty new, and we really are at a fairly rudimentary state of research relating to effects of use on workplace safety. So employers and OHS professionals are facing a situation in which the practice experience of the next few years will provide the basis for our longer-term understanding of cannabis as an occupational health and safety issue. 

AIHA: What are some steps IH/OH professionals can take to address these challenges, even if they’re in a region where cannabis is not currently legalized? 

Tam: The starting point is to acquire understanding of the basics — what cannabis is; its various forms; cannabis pharmacology; key legal aspects; what is and isn’t known about its health, behavioral, and cognitive effects; and potential implications of increased use for workplace safety. Even in regions where recreational use is not currently legal, it is often legal for medical use, and certainly there is extensive use in all jurisdictions, regardless of legality.  

Employers and OHS professionals are facing a situation in which the practice experience of the next few years will provide the basis for our longer-term understanding of cannabis as an occupational health and safety issue. —Joanna Tam, Resource Environmental Associates

AIHA: Who should be taking this PDC 402 course? 

Tam: This is really a course that provides essential literacy in many aspects of cannabis — laws, pharmacology and physiology, medical therapeutic uses, cognitive and behavioral aspects, effects on motor vehicle operation, implications for workplace safety. Given the prevalence of cannabis use — legally or otherwise — it should be of interest to every OHS professional.  

AIHA: Anything else those interested should know about this PDC 402 course?

Tam: As far as I am aware, there is presently no other training on this subject with an occupational hygiene focus and curriculum anywhere in the world. Considerable research went into developing the content of the course, and it is based on what we consider to be the current most authoritative information on the subject. It is an excellent course for anyone seeking a rapid, curated exposure to a very current issue. 

PDC 402: Cannabis Legalization — Workplace Health and Safety will take place on Sunday, May 19. Don’t miss your chance to take this unique and important training at AIHce EXP this year


Berrak Sarikaya is a natural conversation driver with an undeniable belief in the power of community. A proven content strategist and speaker, she resides in Seattle, WA. Follow her on Twitter.​​

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