Creating a cannabis culture at work

With legalization comes a conversation about how we handle weed in the workplace

Graphic by Kelly Campbell.

The legalization of cannabis is changing our work culture.

Overnight, marijuana use was transformed from an illicit act to a national pastime.

As more and more Canadians partake in recreational use, we need to begin a conversation about how cannabis consumption will be handled in a professional environment.

As a savvy employee, you should consider the acceptability of cannabis in your workplace and behave accordingly.

Employers have already responded by developing policy to address marijuana in the workplace.

Some organizations, like the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, have prohibited employees from bringing cannabis onto the premises. Others have outright banned the use of recreational cannabis, even outside of work hours, such as the Toronto and Calgary police forces.

Recreational use is distinct from prescribed medical marijuana use, which in Manitoba falls under an employer’s legal duty to reasonably accommodate for people with disabilities. So, if that is you, not much will change.

If your employer is not enforcing prohibition in your private life, conversations about cannabis use are bound to occur at work. This becomes tricky because there are no clear guidelines on how to discuss this professionally.

Cultural norms already exist for how we discuss alcohol at work. In most workplaces, it is normal to talk about having a glass of wine to decompress after a stressful workweek. It is less acceptable to go into detail about a bender.

Just like with alcohol, a good starting point for determining if you should disclose your cannabis use at work is to follow the lead of your respected superiors. Just as each company has a culture around discussing weekend drinking, there will be an appropriate amount of disclosure about cannabis use.

Although considering how workplace alcohol norms can evolve to include cannabis is a natural starting point, it is not accurate to equate wine and weed.

A 2017 Health Canada report found that only 28 per cent of respondents considered cannabis use to be socially acceptable. This is compared to the 56 per cent who consider alcohol use acceptable. But, to keep things in perspective, only 19 per cent considered tobacco use socially acceptable.

Still, remember that even though cannabis is legal it does not mean our culture has completely caught up.

The same report indicated that 57 per cent of respondents believed marijuana made users less ambitious and motivated. This is probably not the impression you want to give if you are seeking a promotion.

If you are unsure about how your colleagues feel about cannabis, it is always best to err on the side of caution. Stick to more neutral topics until the company culture becomes clear.

With our first post-legalization holiday parties around the corner, another cultural question comes to light: is it cool to toke at work parties?

This will vary from company to company. It will also change as time goes by. In some organizations, smoking a joint will be just as routine as sipping a gin and tonic.

Even so, if Irene from accounting shows up with cannabis Christmas cookies, and you have gauged that partaking is acceptable, be cautious.

As with alcohol, it is prudent to consume in moderation in professional settings. Workplace functions, even within a colleague’s home, are still professional settings.

It is also smart to know your limits before getting high with coworkers. Do not smoke weed for the first time at a work event. If you are unsure how your body will react, you do not want a negative discovery to occur in a professional setting.

Hilarious workplace gossip about Christmas party antics are one thing to listen to and another to be the butt of.

It is also important to consider how you will share your cannabis use on social media. Just as you should be aware of the impression pictures of alcohol consumption might create, be thoughtful about the impression public pot photos might create for current or potential employers.

Maintaining a professional online image can be the difference between a job offer and silence from a potential employer.

Finally — and, hopefully, most obviously — do not show up to work high.

As a general rule, you should have a clear head at work. While it might be difficult for your boss to prove you attended work impaired, even an unfounded suspicion of impairment could negatively impact your career in the long run.

When combining cannabis and your career, be cautious and be smart.