Medicinal Cannabis and Workplace Safety

Laws, regulations and community views around medicinal and recreational cannabis (marijuana) are changing rapidly in Australia.  In particular, there is significant interest from many in the community about the use of medicinal cannabis for a range of medical and pain conditions. 

Since 2016, when the Federal Government legalised the cultivation of medicinal cannabis with an approved permit, steady changes to policy have been made in Australian states and territories, including approval of a medicinal cannabis product.  In fact, a Bill to legalise cannabis for adult recreational use has also recently been introduced to Australia Federal Parliament, however, this has not been passed yet.  It is illegal to drive with any detectable level of THC (the main active ingredient in cannabis) in your system in all states and territories of Australia, however, studies are being commissioned to investigate the effects of medicinal cannabis on driving.

At the time of writing, only one cannabis medication is approved by the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) for use by patients.  Numerous others are not yet approved, although patients may access some unapproved medicines through a special process with their medical practitioner.   Medicinal cannabis may contain active ingredients such CBD and/or THC amongst others.  THC is most commonly associated with side effects which may pose a risk of impairment in the workplace, or while driving, although high doses of CBD may also cause side effects.  


Using cannabis or medicinal cannabis that contains THC in the workplace can have significant safety implications, whether the use is for recreational or medical purposes. These implications vary depending on the type of work, the level of impairment, and the specific duties of the job.  Some safety considerations for workplaces include: 

  1. Impaired Judgment and Decision-Making:

Cannabis (THC) use can impair cognitive function, including judgment and decision-making. This can affect an employee's ability to assess risks and make safe choices, which is particularly concerning in high-risk industries like construction, manufacturing, and transportation.

  1. Decreased Motor Skills:

Cannabis (THC) use can impair motor skills and coordination, leading to reduced dexterity and increased risk of accidents, especially in jobs that require manual dexterity or the operation of heavy machinery.

  1. Slower Reaction Time:

Cannabis (THC) can slow reaction times, which is a critical factor in tasks that require quick responses, such as driving or working with fast-moving equipment. 

  1. Memory and Concentration Issues:

Impaired memory and reduced ability to concentrate can lead to mistakes, oversight, or miscommunication in the workplace, which can have safety consequences. 

  1. Length of Impairment:

The duration of impairment varies depending on the method of cannabis use, the individual, and the type of cannabis consumed. Some impairing effects can last for several hours or even longer, impacting safety throughout the workday.

  1. Increased Risk of Accidents:

Cannabis (THC) use increases the risk of workplace accidents, injuries, and near-miss incidents, all of which can compromise safety. In safety-critical industries like construction or healthcare, such accidents can have severe consequences.

  1. Liability Concerns:

Employers can face liability concerns if an employee's impairment due to cannabis use leads to accidents or injuries, especially if the employer was aware of the situation and failed to take appropriate action.

  1. Impact on Co-Workers:

Cannabis use in the workplace can affect not only the user but also their co-workers. It may create a tense or uncomfortable atmosphere, or co-workers may have to compensate for the impaired individual, leading to reduced overall productivity and safety. 


The use of medicinal cannabis in the workplace presents several implications for both employees and employers. While the use of medicinal cannabis is legal in some jurisdictions for certain medical conditions, employers still need to manage its use to ensure safety and productivity. Here are some key considerations for employers:

  1. Legal Framework:

Employers need to be aware of the legal framework regarding the use of medicinal cannabis in their jurisdiction. Laws and regulations surrounding medicinal cannabis use can vary, so it's important to understand the specific requirements and protections in place for employees using medical cannabis. 

  1. Non-Discrimination and Reasonable Accommodation:

In many jurisdictions, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees with disabilities, which can include those using medicinal cannabis. Employers may be required to make reasonable accommodations for these employees, such as adjusted work schedules, modified job duties, or tolerance of medical cannabis use during non-working hours.

  1. Safety Considerations:

Employers have a responsibility to maintain a safe work environment. If an employee's use of medicinal cannabis impairs their ability to perform their job safely, it can be a legitimate concern. Futhermore, for those industries involved in transport, it remains illegal to drive with THC in your system.  Employers need to balance the rights of employees with disabilities with their duty to ensure a safe workplace. 

  1. Workplace Policies: 

Employers should have clear and comprehensive drug and alcohol policies that includes addressing the use of medicinal cannabis. These policies should outline expectations, prohibitions, and consequences for violations, taking into account the legal framework and safety concerns. 

  1. Drug Testing: 

Employers may, and often do conduct drug testing as part of their safety protocols. If an employee using medicinal cannabis tests positive, Employers should have in place guidelines for handling such cases, including verifying the employee's legitimate use of medicinal cannabis.

  1. Employee Education:

Employers can provide education and awareness programs to help employees understand the company's drug policies, their rights, and their responsibilities. This can promote a safer and more informed workplace. 

  1. Privacy and Confidentiality:

Employers must handle medical information, including the use of medicinal cannabis, with confidentiality and sensitivity. This includes limiting access to this information and only sharing it with individuals who have a legitimate need to know.

  1. Consult Legal Advice:

Employers should consider seeking legal advice or consulting with HR professionals experienced in workplace drug policy to ensure that their workplace policies and actions comply with applicable laws and regulations related to medicinal cannabis use.


In summary, using cannabis or medicinal cannabis in the workplace can compromise safety and create significant risks, especially in safety-sensitive industries. Employers and employees should be aware of workplace policies and road safety laws, adhere to safety guidelines, and consider the potential consequences of cannabis use on safety and job performance. It is essential for workplaces to establish clear and consistent policies regarding the use of cannabis, conduct regular training and awareness programs, and take appropriate measures to ensure a safe working environment.


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