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Do you really need a cannabis policy?

Too many offices play policy whack-a-mole. 

You know Whack-a-mole®, the game where you use a hammer to hit whatever pops up through the hole? Policy whack-a-mole is similar: every time something new pops up, management wants to hit it with a policy. 

Take the recent legalization of cannabis. 

Some executives are outright panicking. “Our entire workforce could show up to work next week stoned out of their minds, and without a policy we can’t do anything about it. They’ll open us to liability issues and cause irreparable damage to our reputation” (Not to mention they’ll probably eat all the munchies in the cafeteria.) 

Time-out! Put down the hammer for a moment, because I just witnessed a large organization waste huge dollars hiring a firm to develop a cannabis policy that they didn’t need. 

We often create policies to avert problems before they happen. That’s fair enough. But do you need a cannabis policy?

If your administrative policies are in good shape, then the answer is “No.” You will already have rules governing employee behaviour, discipline, roles and responsibilities, and appeal procedures.

Two facts are pertinent: 

1. Some substances are illegal

This group includes things like cocaine and contraband tobacco. Your organization doesn’t decide what’s illegal; the best you can do is have a policy about use of those substances at work.

2. Some legal substances cause intoxication

This group includes alcohol, prescription drugs, non-prescription drugs like anti-histamines. Your organization doesn’t determine those, either. The best you can do is have a policy about people coming to the office when their ability to work is impaired by one of those substances.

Before October 2018, cannabis was in the first group. Today – for better or for worse – cannabis is in the second. Nothing else has changed.

If your office policies are properly set up, you don’t even have to blink! You definitely don’t need a new policy whenever a substance jumps from one group to another. 

If your policies are lacking, then you might have gaps to fill in the rules around one or both groups. Or gaps in procedures, or responsibilities, or consequences. And if your policies are not what I call “Perfect Policies,” i.e., based in a framework and worded clearly, succinctly, and respectfully, then you may have other improvements to make as well. 

Remember when Facebook came into offices? Many scrambled to write a Facebook policy. Later they saw people using Twitter, so they wanted a Twitter policy. Then an Instagram policy. A Snapchat policy. But that’s policy whack-a-mole, and that game never ends!

A change in the law may present a good opportunity to take stock of your policies. (Not sure what shape your policies are in? Here’s a free Policy Suite Health Diagnostic tool that will tell you that.)

But don’t panic: update old policies, and don’t fixate on cannabis. Going forward, other substances will jump between groups. You don’t want to play policy whack-a-mole each time that happens.

Lewis S Eisen combines several years practising law with 30 years of business consulting and policy writing in the Government of Canada. He is the author of the book How to Write Rules that People Want to Follow: A Guide to Respectful Policies and Directives.