The “Highs” of Cannabis in the Workplace
Marijuana, weed, pot, bud, ganja, spliff, doobie, jay, reefer, phatty. 26 years ago, then presidential candidate, Bill Clinton said….”I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t inhale it, and never tried it again.” We’ve come a long way since then but the stigma of Cannabis still impacts our perception and how we react to it. The fact is that all employers need to address the implications of the legalization of recreational Cannabis (originally scheduled for July but appears it will be delayed until August 2018).
So what is causing all the confusion and debate? There is no question that the stigma related to Cannabis and the past 100 years of prohibition are contributing to that confusion – images of Woodstock and “free love” – but what does this have to do with the workplace? Employers have had workplace drug and alcohol polices (particularly around safety sensitive occupations) for a very long time and they appear to have worked just fine. Apparently we haven’t had problems with employees using opioids (i.e., painkillers like Oxycontin) while at work and we generally haven’t developed specific policies around the related risks. The reality is, cannabis has over 100 compounds but the two most commonly known are THC (which gets you high) and CBD (valued for its non-psychoactive medical benefits). There is a lack of understanding about these differences, and the differences between smoking (vaping) it, ingesting it or applying it. The real change is related to recreational use of Cannabis versus medical use, so what is really happening here?
Until such time as pharmaceutical companies start growing cannabis, versus the current medical growers, and further research is done on the medicinal impact of cannabis, there likely won’t be any Drug Identification Numbers (DINs) issued. As such, there is limited ability to adjudicate potential employee benefits plan claims using the protocols we currently use for other prescription drugs. Some insurers are allowing coverage under plans but treating cannabis like other medical supplies which could expose plans to significant costs without strict adjudication.
There are lots of challenges coming for benefits plan sponsors but there are also lots of opportunities. We recommend reviewing the following issues:
- Stigma – get past the stigma and see medical cannabis in the same light as other prescription drugs, and see recreational cannabis in the same light as cigarettes, alcohol and other recreational drugs.
- Cost – assess the potential costs to your current employee benefits plan. Note that there are a growing number of conditions and symptoms to treat – chronic pain and nausea are primary conditions but the list is growing (i.e., migraines). As well, the potential users of medical cannabis are likely different than for recreational cannabis – a large component are pediatric or seniors (largest expected group is over age 50). Many believe that medical cannabis may replace the current cost of other opioids but the opportunities here are currently limited.
- Coverage – confirm if your current carrier is willing and/or able to provide coverage for medical cannabis and, if so, what adjudication protocols have they established (i.e., prior authorization, dosing and duration limits, prescription requirements, clinical oversight, etc.). Note that only two carriers in Canada have announced their intent to cover medical cannabis and the majority are in “wait and see” mode or undecided. As such, if your intent is to provide coverage to employees, you may need to change carriers.
- Policies – update workplace policies that should already exist related to intoxication and impairment, workplace safety, duty to accommodate (i.e., disabilities), addiction, performance management, disciplinary processes, etc.). Medical and recreational cannabis are different products but many of the related issues are no different than those we have dealt with before in the workplace.
Time is of the essence, as legalization of recreational cannabis is potentially only a couple of months away, so work needs to be done in the workplace if it hasn’t been done yet. Decisions need to be made based on the best information currently available but plan sponsors need to stay on top of new information as it arises in the market and update their decisions accordingly. While many of the required decisions are heavily philosophical, they need to be made and then workplace policies need to be updated as further information becomes available on the impact of cannabis in the workplace.
At ZLC Financial we are one of the fastest growing employee benefits advisors in Western Canada and we are fortunate to have the best people, resources and clients. We provide value to you by leveraging one of the most skilled benefits teams – collectively over 300 years of experience within our team of 15 employee benefits specialists. We have been working with businesses ranging from 3 to over 65,000 plan members for over 30 years.
We would be pleased to discuss your specific situation with you to identify the best strategy with respect to your employee benefits program. Should you have any questions on the above, please don’t hesitate to contact me or a member of our team.
By Dan Eisner & Fab Biagini
This information is designed to educate and inform you of strategies and products currently available. As each individual’s circumstances differ, it is important to review the suitability of these concepts for your particular needs with a qualified advisor.