Employers are being put on notice that workers could start disappearing from the workplace once marijuana-based products become legal for medical purposes, the head of the doctors’ association has warned.
Dr Abdon DaSilva, who is also Third Vice President of the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB), predicted several workplace-related issues could also arise once marijuana became legal for sacramental and or recreational use.
He was speaking Tuesday night at a seminar hosted by CTUSAB on the topic Medical Marijuana: A Trade Union Perspective at the Courtney Blackman Grand Salle of the Central Bank.
Declaring that there was insufficient research on the blossoming industry, DaSilva pointed to some studies that suggested adverse effects associated with long-term use of cannabis including mental health disorders.
Dr DaSilva, who is the president of the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP), said he expected there to be a lot of grey areas as Barbados develops a medicinal cannabis industry.
He said that BAMP was still unclear as to what shape the medical cannabis industry would take, and that the association was still trying to get more information from the Ministry of Health.
Nevertheless, Dr DaSilva said it will be up to employers to consult with their lawyers to develop tight policies on using medical marijuana at work, adding that the Safety and Health at Work Act would be even more critical.
He said: “Employers must consider the possibility that increases in absenteeism and presenteeism may occur as marijuana containing products become increasingly available to workers, and that would include if they legalize it for personal recreational use.
“Employers and workers and their representatives, which I take to be the trade union, should jointly assess the effects of drug use in the workplace and should cooperate in developing a written policy for the enterprise.”
Insisting that there were implications for the workplace, Dr DaSilva pointed out that employees who abuse drugs and alcohol had “more absences than non-abusers, they are involved in about half of the workplace accidents and they use more health benefits than other employees”.
Adding that they were also known to sell drugs on work premises and even steal from their colleagues to satisfy their habits, he said drug problems should be considered health issues and therefore be dealt with “without any discrimination as any other health problem at work, and covered by the health system whether public or private as appropriate”.
He said a national policy should be implemented after consultation with trade unions and workers organizations, adding that the same prohibition with respect to drug use in the workplace should apply to both management and workers, and employers should maintain all confidentiality of workers.
He also suggested that employers and managers be trained to identify marijuana impairment and know what to do when an employee is suspected of impairment on the job.
“Workers who seek treatment for marijuana, alcohol or drug-related use should not be discriminated against,” he declared.
But stating that workplace policies should be explicit, Dr DaSilva warned that proving that someone was impaired due to marijuana use could prove difficult.
He explained: “The current testing not available is to do blood levels of marijuana and I don’t know if it will ever come on stream because we have a difficulty getting the breathalyser going close to 20 years.
“And you are going to have a problem with the human rights lawyers on this issue. It can be considered invasion of a person’s privacy. It requires consent of a person to be tested.
“There has to be clear guidance on the consequences of refusing. This is going to be troublesome.
“They need to validate test results through a medical professional.
“If positive results are indicative of substance abuse, what that says is that we need somebody called a toxicologist in Barbados.
“I don’t think a court will willingly accept a GP [General Practitioner] or somebody else I think they would be very wrong to do that. And then there is the issue of confidentiality.”
Noting there were some mild and some severe side effects of long-term use of cannabis, Dr DaSilva said problems could also develop for people working in the cannabis industry.
Dr DaSilva said besides it being labour-intensive, workers could be exposed to a variety of biological and chemical hazards including allergens and pollen, volatile organic compounds, and THC – the mind-altering chemical in marijuana.
“There are certainly going to be noise in some of these growth locations and where they use ultraviolet radiation workers will have to be protected with special gears,” he said.
But in relation to BAMP’s position on the use of marijuana for medical treatment, Dr DaSilva said: “We don’t have a position official position on it.”