Weed & the workplace | How to benefit from the challenges this presents.

Trends are often nothing more than a preview of what's to come. The word trend is just a gentler way of saying change and our negativity bias in our brain can reflexively see change as stress. For the past 4 decades, we've seen a liberalized trend on our view of cannabis. This trend was a preview to the now current legislation in Canada. Now that Bill C-45 is law, how has this trend shown up for you or your organization and can you, to some degree, anticipate emerging trends that you can plan now as a way of building individual and organizational resiliency?


Workplaces all over Canada are now grappling with the impact Bill C-45 and in-house corporate lawyers may be feeling the stress of this recent change more than anyone else in their organization! Mindfulness techniques and practices can help you manage your own stress and even to make friends with trends that dramatically impact our work. Building awareness of your own beliefs and attitudes towards cannabis (or any other substance), cultivating a beginner's mind and practicing compassion towards the wellbeing of others can help us manage current and future trends that may emerge as we test the waters so to speak in relation to cannabis use.


It can sometimes be helpful to first check in with yourself on where you are in terms of values or beliefs in relation to cannabis (or drugs in general). Core attitudes and beliefs about drugs often impact how we engage with others at work. Becoming aware of your own or others cannabis bias in the workplace should be part of what all employees (especially employers) practice to avoid inappropriate judging, reducing stigma related to cannabis use and avoid conflict or grievances in the workplace. It may be that you already have checked your biases on the topic of cannabis use, but your role as the in-house corporate lawyers, it may be prudent to help others in the organization to become aware of their own beliefs that might become barriers to successful implementation of best practices moving forward.


Your inner beliefs about a law or of drug use in general may be impacting your equanimity (sense of peace), job satisfaction and psychological wellbeing. Moral distress surrounding Bill C-45 is a possible threat to your own wellbeing. If in your mindful check in related to how you personally view drug use, you realize you have a bias for or against cannabis use, you may find that your values and beliefs may be in conflict with what is being asked of you at work. This could mean you'll experience some moral distress in our work. If moral distress shows up along the way, you should likely consider working these thoughts and feelings with a trusted health care professional until you can successfully align your work with your values.


While workplaces have dealt with the use of tobacco and alcohol already, cannabis legislation offers a chance to adopt a beginner's mind in reviewing current policies and language around educating, testing, establishing fitness for work policies and disciplinary pathways for those under the influence. Bill C-45 provides us all with an opportunity to practice beginner's mind. Without it, you may miss an important opportunity to do something different if you look at pre-existing language around tobacco and alcohol use in the workplace and believe it's sufficient. When you can look at something as if you haven't seen it before with this new lens, you may see things you haven't seen before. Beginner's mind means we also have to let go of our 'expert mind' and make space for something new. That may feel like we are not doing our job, but in reality, this attitude of not having to be expert in everything can be a relief and a way of unloading some of the stress load.  


Complicating matters more: medicinal or recreational


Unlike other drugs (alcohol and tobacco use as examples) cannabis use has been categorized as either medicinal or recreational. From a workplace perspective, differentiating the two is arguably where HR and legal teams will spend significant energy in understanding how to navigate policies around accommodation for those who require it medicinally and those who use it recreationally. Again, a beginner's mind and some self-reflection about your attitudes and beliefs can help you sort through the judgments we hold with respect to medicinal vs recreational cannabis use.


Educating the leaders and decision makers is paramount to appreciating the complexities of cannabis use in the workplace. Emerging evidence that often contradicts or challenges long held group thinks about cannabis means that educating all employees on the impact of cannabis on health and safety (in and out of the workplace) and productivity needs to be shared openly and frequently. If you are not an expert on cannabis, find someone who is or a person who is qualified to sift through the data to inform the various stakeholders of the most current and up to date information.


Practicing compassion can be difficult any day of the week, but it may feel next to impossible to cultivate compassion for recreational users of cannabis in comparison to those who use for medical reasons. The word itself 'recreational' seems to imply for 'fun' or 'play' and we may find ourselves locked into severe judgment about those cannabis users who do not fall under the category of medicinal. But, what if you were to view users in this category with the backdrop of they suffer emotionally, could you find compassion now?


There are many, many users of cannabis that use for the same reason people reach for a glass of wine at the end of a long day. Few people are stigmatized for having a glass of wine at the end of a hard day. Alcohol has been legal for decades and is therefore socially more acceptable. Cannabis has a long history of stereotypes and myths to overcome before it will be treated in the same regard of having a drink to unwind. The stigma attached to cannabis is strong and potentially harmful in organizations if awareness of biases, a beginner's mind in approaching it and some compassion are not brought into the discussion about why we self-medicate/sooth.


Without striving to settle any debate about whether one uses or not to use (or where), it is worthy of considering the bigger picture of drug use in Canada against the back drop of statistical information related to incidence and prevalence rates of mental illness, heart disease, strokes and diabetes against drug and alcohol addiction (including tobacco and vaping) in this country.


We are medicated and self-medicated (soothing) at rates not seen before.

We take drugs to control just about every function of our body now. Pills that control our blood pressure, the size of our airways, blood sugar, bowel function, aches and pains, cholesterol levels, mood makers (serotonin), stomach acid and our capacity to have intimate interactions. It is getting to the point that it seems more unusual to not be on medication that stabilizes your mood or to manage difficult emotions like anxiety all on your own. There's an app and a pill for what you need these days.


Exogenously focused


In a very subtle but real way, we are teaching ourselves to rely on exogenous substances to maintain normal body functions, to heal naturally and feel better when difficult emotions or memories show up. We reach for food, alcohol, a cigarette, narcotics or cannabis to soothe what is difficult to feel. At it's core, mindfulness is about getting to know and understand our minds and the emotions that are produced and how to use our emotions and bodies to gain insight, wisdom and to cultivate equanimity. It works on life from the inside out. Mindfulness can be our way back to the endogenous biology and psychology we are equipped with to use, but maybe have just stopped relying on it because it's not a quick or pleasant as the exogenous.


Mindfulness practices can be difficult because inevitably, you'll need to address the discomfort in the most natural of ways...you'll have to feel your way through them and adjust your own thoughts and behaviours until you find a more comfortable place in life than you were when you noticed you were uncomfortable.


That takes time. And practice.


The psychoactive properties of cannabis shows that the onset of effect is minutes. Mindfulness can't compete with the onset, but it can compete when it comes to duration and meaningful and positive changes to your brain and biology. Humans abuse and abuse substances (including food/sugar) on many, many different levels. We have for as long as we've been around.  


If you are grabbling with all that Bill C-45 brings to your workplace, see if you can take some time to really understand what is going on here and now. You are not responsible for fixing millennia of or propensity to take in things that numb the pain. As you re-visit policies and best practices in your workplace to support the new legislation, you have this gift of starting with fresh eyes and starting something new. These moments of stress and strain placed on us by a major change in law can be opportunities to really do things differently.


Keep asking yourself 'what is really going on here' with as little judgment as possible. You have a chance to not only work with the new legislation, but speak to the larger issue of mental health and wellbeing in your organization. If you look around your workplace and find that there is no real mental health strategy in place, Bill C-45 underscores the necessity of investigating how to support your human capital in a more meaningful way than just penning really good policies. Measure success on how little these re-vamped policies actually get dusted off and used.


Our capacity to engage with stress is a skill that needs practice and support. We just assume that we are all gifted with resiliency and good mental wellbeing. Every single piece of data regarding mental illness and substance abuse suggests otherwise. It's time we took stock of more than what is required by law.


Two Step

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