DEF column strip
DEF column strip

Over the past few years, several States have loosened or proposed the loosening of legislation criminalizing the cultivation, processing, sale and usage of marijuana. In Dominica, the decriminalization of marijuana has been a topic of vigorous discussion in the public sphere for some time now, even as the push for liberalization of restrictions on Sunday trading has been. Both seek to address the need for major reform to take advantage of economic and social opportunities which hitherto were not apparent. The major difference is that the marijuana conversation was presented in Parliament two budget-years ago. In support of reform, Fortune Business Insights' report (2019) stated, "The global cannabis market size was valued at USD 10.6 billion in 2018, and is projected to reach USD 97.35 billion by the end of 2026." Who wouldn't want a slice of that pie! States reliant on commodities industries have scrambled to enter this huge market.

In his 2020/2021 Budget Address to the Dominican Parliament in July/August 2020, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit spoke to the topic of decriminalizing marijuana wherein, he explained, the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) (Amendment) Bill 2020 will be presented in Parliament to seek the decriminalization of possession of 28 grams of marijuana or less. He continued, "The Government will forge ahead on the matter of developing a revenue stream, and foreign exchange earnings from a marijuana industry." This "heads up" left many employers concerned about the effects on the workplace of decriminalizing wanton marijuana usage. Some questions employers have are:

  1. What impact could decriminalization of marijuana have on an employer's ability to discharge or discipline an employee who comes to work under the influence of marijuana?

  2. What impact could decriminalization of marijuana have on an employer's ability to prohibit the possession of small, recreational-use amounts of marijuana on company property?

  3. How would the circumstances and end results in points 1 and 2 above change if the new legislation makes marijuana use a fundamental human right?

  4. What impact could the decriminalization of marijuana have on productivity, efficiency, work attitudes and ethics?

These are all very important questions to ask when thinking about creating a "Dynamic Dominica". One of the key concerns surrounding the topic of marijuana is not limited to decriminalization, but includes the effect it will have on workplace safety. To answer questions 1 and 2 above, some employers may say, "none". Looked at from a different angle, such decriminalization may have no impact whatsoever on an employer's ability to continue to prohibit all employees from being under the influence of marijuana at work, from using it during work time, or from possessing it in the workplace. This view reinforces the employer's right to maintain a strict zero-tolerance policy for drug use in the same manner as is done for alcohol consumption. Even if decriminalized, employees will still need to adhere to company policies which state the consequences of performing duties while under the influence of the drug.

"There will be need for much education of employees; education which the private sector cannot depend on the public sector to provide. Topping the list is to get the workforce to understand that there is a line of demarcation between criminal law and employment law. An action which does not constitute a crime can be grounds for discipline at the workplace", says Achille Chris Joseph of the Board of Standards of The OSH Institute of Dominica.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main mood-altering substance found in cannabis is a hallucinogen, meaning individuals' perception of reality may be skewed and, as such, there will always be workplace policies meant to reduce accidents, injuries and the employer's liability for the safety of workers.

The decriminalization of marijuana has created a double-edged sword for employers. On one hand, they must respect the new laws but, at the same time, should not feel limited to discipline employees who disobey company policies with regards intoxication.