Medical Marijuana and the Workplace: What employers need to know

With the recent legalisation of medical marijuana (or medical cannabis) in Victoria, we expect other Australian states to follow suit soon as Labor calls for a nationwide scheme. The Commonwealth government has already announced plans to legalise growing marijuana for medicinal and research purposes in Australia.

Previously, medical marijuana was legal but had to be imported.

Although the move is to benefit those afflicted with health issues so that they can use marijuana as a medical treatment, the legalisation of marijuana cultivation in the state will have several implications to employees and employers.

It’s important as employers that you understand what this might mean and how to prepare. Here are some things employers need to know about the legalisation of medical marijuana in Australia.

 

What is the regulation on marijuana now?

At the moment, medical cannabis has been legalised only in Victoria. The legalisation is only for medical marijuana, not recreational use.

This legalises access to locally manufactured medicinal cannabis products for use by patients suffering from severe medical conditions outlined in the report, including:

  • Severe muscle spasms or severe pain resulting from multiple sclerosis
  • Severe pain, nausea, vomiting or wasting arising from cancer, HIV/AIDS (of the treatment thereof)
  • Severe seizures resulting from epileptic conditions where other treatment options have failed or have intolerable side effects
  • Severe chronic pain with the approval of two specialists

The Australian Government intends to amend the Narcotic Drugs Act to allow cannabis to be grown for medicine or science and ensure that Australia is not in breach of international drug treaties. States and territories would enter an agreement with the Commonwealth to participate in the scheme.

Regulation on cannabis would be strict – licenses would be issued only for authorised cannabis cultivators; a register would be set up for medicinal cannabis products that meet standards set by the law; and an authorised patient and carers scheme to allow medicinal cannabis use would be established. Doctors would provide medical supervision for patients using regulated medicinal cannabis products.

 

For more information on the medical marijuana regulations, the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s report on Medicinal Cannabis is accessible online.

 

Medical vs Recreational Marijuana

Contrary to popular belief, marijuana for medical use and marijuana for recreational use are very different. As employers, it’s important to know the difference:

 

1. Medical marijuana and street marijuana are not the same.

Both are obtained from different sources. Medicinal marijuana from authorised cultivators would have controlled and consistent quality because the production of the drug is standardised. Street marijuana that is illegally obtained might have different quality or unknown additives.

Recreational marijuana is usually smoked in joints or bongs (water pipes). On the other hand, medical marijuana is available in various forms that allow it to be best absorbed into the patient’s system for maximum relief. Medical marijuana is traditionally available in oils, creams or balms for topical application, in vapourisers for inhalation, or in capsules or oils for oral ingestion. In fact, smoking marijuana is seen as the least effective way for medical users to benefit from marijuana.

 

 

2. Medical marijuana has a different strain and usage from street marijuana

There’s also a difference in the components inside marijuana itself – THC and CBD.

THC is the psychoactive component that is most often associated with the feeling of “getting high” from the cannabis plant.

CBD, on the other hand, is the cannabinoid in marijuana that alleviates pain for the user. It is possible to vary the potency of one cannabinoid over another depending on the strain ingested or preferred by the user. Medicinal marijuana will most likely contain a lot more CBD for pain-relief, whereas street marijuana would contain more THC for psychoactive effects.

 

3. Medical marijuana users need it for pain relief; Recreational users are looking for a high

Recreational users are more often than not using the drug to receive a high from the drug’s psychoactive effects.

On the other hand, medicinal marijuana users aren’t looking for a high – they’re seeking pain relief or trying to curb side-effects like nausea or loss of appetite because of pre-existing conditions or diseases such as cancer or AIDS/HIV.

 

4. Obtaining medical marijuana will not be easy.

One would need to apply for permission and be approved by a licensed medical professional who finds that their symptoms and conditions fall within the Law Reform Commission’s rigid categories, that will be based on the following conditions and corresponding symptoms as mentioned earlier.

Medicinal marijuana users would have the proper documentation to show that they are authorised to obtain medical marijuana.

 

For employers wanting to learn more about medicinal marijuana, the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC) has very useful resources on medical cannabis.

For information and assistance with drug testing Australia workplace employees, be sure to talk to our workplace drug testing experts on 1300 800 200 (AU) or +613 8899 6900 (International) for a free consultation.

 

Read next: Medical Marijuana: How would it affect the workplace?