Work Under The Influence of Cannabis
The laws which govern the consumption of drugs in Australia are complex. Commonwealth laws have the ultimate say, but states and territories can bring in their own laws relating to the consumption of certain drugs. In order to look at the policies which govern substance use at the workplace, it’s important to take a closer look at how drugs are categorised in Australia.
According to the department of health, there are four common illegal substances under the law:
- Marijuana (Cannabis)
- Ecstasy (MDMA)
The use, cultivation and sale of all forms of these drugs are illegal within Australian territory. These substances are explicitly banned as they are deemed ‘unsafe’ and of harm to those who consume them. Each state and territory has its own set of unique laws and disciplinary actions concerning the use of cannabis and this obviously extends to being under the influence while within the workplace. Cannabis is slightly different to the other three specified illegal substances as its status as a harmful drug is slowly being challenged.
There are no specific laws in the constitution concerning working under the influence of cannabis, however, it is more likely that each workplace will have its own set of drug use policies which align with local and national law. As an employee, even with a medical marijuana license, it is important that you understand your company’s drug policies for both legal substances (alcohol, nicotine or prescription medication) and illegal substances.
The use and possession of cannabis is still a criminal offence in most of Australia. Here are some of the punishments attached to the use and possession of cannabis across Australia.
What are an Employee’s Rights?
If an employee turns up at work under the influence of cannabis, there are many factors which must be considered in order to determine the rights they will be able to exercise.
If an employee is a medical marijuana patient, they reserve the right to use cannabis. They have the legal backing to use the substance. However, in this situation company policy would ultimately dictate the consequences for an employee who tests positive for cannabis. Although no legal prosecution may apply, company policies are generally signed when agreeing to the initial contract and may come with their own set of consequences.
These consequences could range from simple warnings to dismissal from employment, but this is totally dependent on the company’s policies that the employee agreed to when they commenced employment. In some cases, dismissals are deemed too harsh and overturned by legal means, however, if the line of work depends on motor skills which can be impaired by cannabis use, the decision is likely to be upheld.
If an employee is observed to be under the influence of cannabis at work and this employee is not a medical marijuana patient, it is an entirely different situation. Under Commonwealth law and state/territory laws, this employee would be committing a punishable offence. The laws differ depending on the state and territory and they range from hefty fines to jail sentences.
There is no law which mandates that employers must report employees who have been proven to use cannabis and as such, some may seek internal reparations without involving the law.
Other Countries’ Experience with Legalisation
In countries where cannabis is legal for both recreational and medicinal use, controlling cannabis use at the workplace is similar to the policies in place in Australia. If anything, these countries have much better structure as they have laws which directly address these situations.
In Canada, for example, cannabis is regulated in the workplace, particularly in order to ensure the safety of all those in the vicinity. For individuals with legal marijuana prescriptions, it is the shared duty of the employer and employee to address the safety of other employees.
Cannabis is known to cause certain impairments and for employees who work in sectors which utilise motor skills, it is imperative that they inform their employers about their prescriptions and use of the drug. Under Canada’s Human Rights Act, employers are obligated to accommodate an employee to the point of undue hardship and this includes the use of medical cannabis.
Cannabis Use at Work
Cannabis use has different laws and consequences that apply depending on the region. However, for workplaces where cannabis use is prohibited and especially where its effects could cause impairment, testing positive for cannabis could result in termination of employment. While there may be Commonwealth laws and state laws that decide the legal consequences, ultimately the signing of a contract could be the final determiner when it comes to penalties for cannabis use in the workplace.