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Can I consume medical cannabis at work?

An expert answers your questions around medical cannabis in the workplace.

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Can I consume medical cannabis in the workplace?
The answer often depends on the type of work you are doing

You’ve got a prescription for cannabis, but does this mean you can consume at work? How do you talk to your employer about it? And what if they request a drug test? An expert shares their insight.

It can be difficult to know where you stand when it comes to consuming medical cannabis in the workplace.

Many patients will rely on having access to their medication throughout the day – they may only be able to work because of it.

But as is often the case, with cannabis only being legalised for medical treatment in 2018 (and a lot of stigma still surrounding its use), there isn’t a clear answer as to your rights when consuming at work. 

Often it depends on the type of work you are doing and whether any reasonable adjustments  can be made by your employer.

Abby Hughes, chair of PLEA (Patient-Led Engagement for Access), and patient expert for Cannabis Health, shared her insight for anyone facing this dilemma. 

Will I be able to consume cannabis at work if I have a prescription?

As with any medication, depending on the job, you may be able to discuss with your place of work reasonable adjustments allowing a safe place to use prescribed medicines during working hours.

Speaking with occupational therapy or the equivalent may help to identify if it is appropriate to use medication whilst at work. This would be dependent on the type of work being carried out; for example if you are required to use heavy machinery or drive a vehicle, there may be restrictions around insurance allowing the use of certain medication.

Whilst you are not at liberty to disclose why you are using prescribed medication, many find that cannabis medicines help them to be able to work, and/or to work more efficiently and effectively, and it may help when speaking with your employer to be honest about the impact on your symptoms.

What happens if my employer requests that I take a drug test?

Only available on prescription in the past few years, and mainly via private practice, it does not always translate that a person is legally accessing cannabis under the guidance of a clinician. This may be cause for confusion on an employer’s part.

Company health and safety policy may describe legitimate reasons, such as safety compliance, that the use of prescription medications should be disclosed to a place of work. Providing a copy of an issued prescription as well as a corresponding clinical letter should clarify that a medication has been prescribed, however, this may not negate concerns around safety, and may require more specific guidance in writing from the prescribing clinician.

As well as covering employees ahead of time should a drugs test be requested, where there is genuine concern over a person’s ability to safely carry out their role, a referral to occupational health may be suggested to discuss possible reasonable adjustments. In some cases, honesty around using prescribed medication may still prompt a drugs test to be requested by an employer.

As per the gov.uk website under workers’ rights, employers must have consent to test for drugs, usually accompanied by a full contractual health and safety policy, which should be covered by an employment contract or staff handbook.

Whilst workers cannot be made to take a drugs test, refusal if an employer has good grounds for testing may result in disciplinary action. It may be that a drugs test is justified by the nature of a person’s employment requirements, such as driving or clinical work, though random drugs tests can also be commonplace.

Policy should highlight guidance around drug testing where a person’s ability to carry out their role is unaffected by their use of prescription medication.

If support is required from an employee or employer perspective, advice can be sought from Release, an independent charity specialising in issues related to drug use and drug laws.

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