How to Prepare Your Workplace for the Aftermath of Marijuana Legalization


With cannabis being decriminalized under federal legislation on October 17, 2018 — roughly six months ago — many employers have tried to anticipate how this has and/or will impact their workplaces. Undoubtedly, in-house policy is key, but leaders should set their sights on effects that are far greater.

With marijuana legalization comes a growing new industry that is hiring from the same talent pool — increasing competition for workers at all levels, especially entry-level. The cannabis business offers appealing employment opportunities and benefits, including spiking stocks. Employers in sectors with existing labour shortages should be concerned.

Marijuana legalization has also presented a new workplace challenge. How should your management deal with employees who have marijuana prescriptions or addiction issues?

To help Canadian employers navigate legalization’s workplace side effects, we present the following information and suggestions.

Recruitment and Retention

Marijuana legalization will open the door to a new industry that will be competing for candidates from existing talent pools. Industries that are currently struggling to fill entry-level positions may find themselves facing an even greater labour shortage as cannabis businesses poach their staff.

Sundial Growers Inc. is at the forefront of creating new job opportunities for young people. Sundial’s new facility in Olds, Alberta will create up to 300 new jobs from administration to cultivation. Able to pay higher-than-market wages, even for entry-level positions, Sundial is well-positioned to attract young employees who may be considering other industries such as retail or hospitality. This is a direct threat to these other industries who recruit from the same talent pool.

Jurisdictions with legalized marijuana have already felt the impact of increased talent competition. Restaurants in Denver, Colorado began noticing increased turnover in their wait staff when marijuana was legalized there. Denver cannabis storefronts are able to offer young workers higher wages for less demanding work and better hours. These appealing conditions seemed to be too good to resist for restaurant employees.

Restaurants in the Lower Mainland should take heed. There is already a labour shortage in this sector and additional competition for talent is not good news. Other industries with shortages such as senior’s health care and retail will likely be affected too if they haven’t already been impacted.

What Can Employers Do?

Now is a good time to work on developing a solid recruitment and retention strategy, if you haven’t already done so. This may require making a critical evaluation of your status quo and see what changes you should implement to be a more attractive employer to employees at all levels.

Begin by interviewing employees to find out what they desire from their employers. It may be more work/life balance-friendly hours, or other non-compensatory benefits that will be relatively inexpensive for employers to implement.

Business owners should also consider developing a marketing strategy that promotes them as an employer of choice. Incorporate various channels including social media and sponsorship opportunities to help raise awareness and build brand recognition.

As well, employee referral programs can have a two-pronged benefit. They bring in quality candidates and they engage current employees by casting them as ambassadors of your organization. By encouraging your employees to refer their friends, you are implicitly asking them to invest in your company. They will feel a stronger sense of inclusion and therefore be more likely to stay.

Employers in all sectors should be adapting their workplaces in one shape or another so existing employees don’t go looking for greener pastures.

Substance Use/Abuse Policy

In addition to recruitment and retention concerns, employers should be prepared for marijuana legalization to potentially affect workplace behaviours. Employers should clearly document expectations about substance use in the workplace in a well-constructed policy. We recommend communicating your substance use/abuse policy with employees as soon as possible if you haven’t already. You may even wish to hold an in-person session to review your policy and procedures.

We suggest you include the following elements in your substance use/abuse policy:

  • Specify cannabis use in addition to alcohol and other drug use.
  • Explicitly state that drug use and intoxication will not be tolerated in the in the workplace. It may seem obvious, but it’s better not to leave any confusion on the matter, especially as some employees may be tempted to interpret “legalization” as a pass for use wherever and whenever they want.
  • State consequences for using cannabis at work and the disciplinary steps that will be taken. We recommend stating that employees found under the influence will be sent home and subsequent discipline may follow after an investigation is conducted.
  • Detail your approach to substance addiction. For example, you could state that you view drug addiction and alcoholism as an illness requiring treatment. Employees who present with this illness will be required to seek treatment. Include information about sick time eligibility, any Employee Assistance Plans that may be available, and return to work requirements.
  • Include a statement about employees who have a marijuana prescription and indicate that those cases will be dealt with as a medical accommodation to be addressed under your Duty to Accommodate policy.

We hope that this article has helped to shed more light on the upcoming side effects of marijuana legalization to Canadian employers. 



Robin Turnill, CPHR is founder and CEO, and Laura Johnson is HR and communications consultant, with Pivot HR Services. If you have any questions or would like advice about your organization’s preparedness for legalization, please contact us today at

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