As the federal government prepares to legalize marijuana, many people have been left wondering how this will affect law enforcement, employers, and other stakeholders in our society.
For example, oil and gas groups have been lobbying for changes to the upcoming legislation. They’re arguing that more measures are needed to prevent individuals under the influence of cannabis from working in safety-sensitive positions. Although just one industry, this could be the tip of an iceberg that the federal government didn’t foresee.
Unlike with alcohol, there is no clear consensus on what constitutes marijuana impairment. Although urine tests are one common way that testers evaluate impairment, they’re not the most reliable measure, as THC can remain in your system for days, weeks, or even months after use.
Also, THC remains in the blood for only a few hours after smoking, so blood tests can identify past use only if the individual has used cannabis fairly recently, and they are not precise in detecting the degree of impairment. Even the most commonly used marijuana field testing kit utilizing the Duquenois-Levine Reagent is coming under scrutiny because of inconsistencies with its results, more specifically because of it rendering too many false positives.
The Duquenois-Levine field test is a variation of drug testing techniques that have been around since the 1930s. The test itself is named after the chemical reagent used within the field kits that reacts to the presence of cannabinoids, turning the reagent a violet blue colour. Because of its popularity among police departments, the Dequenois-Levine Reagent field test has been studied more than any other cannabis testing method.
All of this leaves governments and law enforcement agencies in a tough spot no knowing which test to trust.
What to do?
It is critical to remember that, even after marijuana is legalized, the right of individuals to use marijuana will never override the right of the employer to maintain a safe, drug-free working environment. The competition between safety and productivity at work, and protecting the rights and privacy of individual employees is becoming a critical battle for people on both sides.
Some employers are looking at new and complex testing procedures. One Vancouver-based company has been developing a marijuana breathalyzer, which that they claim can detect impairment rather than past use. Their claims are based on the use of technology that can identify molecules of THC on the user’s breath. The device’s handheld size would also allow it to be used in roadside stops by police in much the same way as an alcohol breathalyzer.
A similar product is also being developed at the University of British Columbia, where students and professors alike have been working on a marijuana breathalyzer device since 2013. Their goal is to have the device used by police, but also have it used as a self-administered test so that individuals can gauge for themselves whether they are capable of driving or going to work.
Until new technologies are refined, tested, and released to the general market, we must rely on current testing technologies to protect the Canadian public and workforce. The fight to protect workplace safety in the face of changing legislation will be key for many, whether you approach it from the perspective of the employer or employee.
It’s going to be tough to know how to safely exercise your rights to maintain a drug-free environment, but for all of us it’ll be key for the government to be clear in any next steps they take.