Canadian businesses should brace for the fact that an estimated 7.7 per cent of employees currently use cannabis daily before going to work, a human resources expert warns. 

Bill Howatt, chief research and development officer of workforce productivity at Morneau Sheppell, said that Canadian companies must prepare for the unseen complexities that will emerge as Canada prepares for the legalization of recreational marijuana on Oct. 17.

“We need to be aware if the population of Canada is about 17 to 18 million [people] working full-time, part-time, that’s approximately 1.3 million  people considering using marijuana before they go to work,” Howatt said in an interview with BNN Bloomberg Thursday. 

“It’s the same thing as alcohol – we have to realize lots of people with an alcohol addiction aren’t people on skid row, they’re people coming to work every day as well.”

Employers must grapple with the question about how cannabis use is affecting some of their employees, Howatt said.

“I don’t know if they’re getting stoned, that’s the other thing that’s challenging about this. This whole conversation is going to be interesting because it’s around impairment,” he said.

Howatt said he’s concerned about what the legalization of recreational use means for mental health issues among Canadians.

“My concern is some people are using it for self-medication. They might be using it in ways to cope and compensate, where we have already have an epidemic growing in my mind in mental health issues,” Howatt said.

Howatt said he recommends companies invest in staff education on cannabis use.

“I don’t want to be an alarmist, but I think it’s really good for us as employers to spend time educating people on why they do it, making sure we don’t assume they understand ‘fit for duty,’ making sure that people know the difference that when you smoke it, it stays in your system,” Howatt said.

“We need to educate employees and managers on how to actually have conversations on this, because there’s going to be a big learning curve coming.”