Lawyer to employers: Take 'soft' approach to marijuana

Attorney Keith Scotland. -
Attorney Keith Scotland. -

Attorney Keith Scotland called for a more progressive approach to the way employers treat with people found using marijuana in the workplace.

He was speaking on Wednesday at a sensitisation session on the decriminalisation of marijuana and its impact on the workplace at the Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre, St Ann's.

Scotland pleaded with employers to “soften” their position when a worker is first found in breach of their marijuana-related policies.

“Seeing that the law has gone the way of decriminalising possession of a certain amount of the substance, maybe the time has come to soften the position and look for a lesser penalty that would meet the justice of the case.”

He cited alternatives to dismissal in the first instance when someone infringes a company’s rules, such as counselling and suspension without pay.

“Maybe you need to adjust your disciplinary code, because I am sure that in your disciplinary code there are mandatory sanctions, and a mandatory sanction is not in keeping with treating each case on its own merit."

Scotland clarified that using marijuana in the workplace is still illegal and counter to several occupational health and safety practices.

He reminded employers that the amendments to the Dangerous Drug Act decriminalise certain quantities of cannabis and cannabis resin (up to 30 grams), but prohibit its use in public places, educational institutes and places of work.

He added that people found with more than the legal quantity can be subject to fines and/or community service.

The act also prohibits operating vehicles, aircraft, ships and machinery while under the influence of marijuana.

“You would have to ascertain how to determine whether one is under the influence,” Scotland said.

Dr Esther Best, manager of the National Drug Council, encouraged employers to educate workers on the amendments to the legislation and the office policies on marijuana.

She said marijuana was a part of TT culture even before the amendments were passed and it would be a challenge to battle the culture surrounding it, “because you are also battling something that is culturally ingrained.

"Even at the level of schools, marijuana has become something where the perception of harm is extremely low. And when the perception of harm is low, the use goes up.

“Companies must educate their employees on marijuana and other drugs as well. Educate them on the substance-abuse issues, protocols, why they are set up the way they are, and what the policies are intended to achieve.”

She said they should put policies in place for continuous testing, pointing out that tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as THC, one of the main chemicals in marijuana, can stay in the system for quite some time.

“You have to make provisions for when someone tests positive, for them to be able to continue that testing, so as an employer you will know whether their use continues, or whether they are not using as much, because you will see the THC levels going down.”

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