Tuesday, 6 October 2020

The cannabis referendum

I hope that the cannabis referendum passes. It isn't the legislation I'd have written, but it is preferable to prohibition. 

Last week, The Helen Clark Foundation and the Initiative co-hosted a webinar with The Brookings Institution's John Hudak, author of Marijuana: A Short History, about America's experience with legalisation. 

You can catch it below. 

There's been a lot of misinformation about what would be allowed under the proposed legislation. I covered some of that in this week's column for the Stuff newspapers

A snippet:
The main scare stories really do not hold up. The legalisation experience abroad counters many of them; the restrictiveness of New Zealand’s proposed framework puts paid to much of the rest.

If you are not certain about any aspect of the bill, it is all easily checked. But a fairly simple heuristic can also work. Just imagine the bill was drafted by people who deeply mistrust business and commerce, who hate advertising, who are not all that keen on cannabis consumption in any case, and whose ideal cannabis operation would be a small non-profit community-based cooperative that employs people from underprivileged communities. Any provisions you might imagine would be drafted by that kind of group will not be far from how the bill really looks.

I worry that this makes for a bit of a problem. Social conservatives have very good ways of overcoming collective action problems. Where the Bill makes it rather difficult for any kind of larger businesses to get involved, you'll be less likely to draw any substantial industry funding in support of legalisation. 

I also worry a bit that the bill doesn't do much to make it easier for employers needing to deal with a worker who shows up impaired. It's less a problem in the US, because it's rather easier to fire workers there. Here, it could be an issue:

That also leads to a bit of a problem, even if your ideal cannabis operation looks like the kind of business likely to be authorised and licensed under this draft legislation. How can employers whose workplaces involve risky activities like heavy machine operation ensure that they can maintain appropriate health and safety regimes, while not running into trouble with employment law?

It is a difficult circle to square.

Employees should have the right, in a legalised environment, to consume cannabis on the weekend. But employers should be able to discipline workers who show up to work while impaired. The bill does little to enable the latter.

Proving that an employee is impaired can be difficult. Workplace drug testing is a poor indicator of on-the-job impairment; cannabis use over the prior weekend can too easily be caught in those tests if the threshold is set at a low level. Further, if an employee’s terms of initial employment did not include provision for drug testing, it can be difficult to add those provisions later.

Prohibition makes it risky for workers to show up to work while impaired, the consequences could be worse than an angry boss. Removing that constraint, while not providing better ways for employers to ensure on-the-job safety, can make for a problem.

I hope the cannabis referendum passes, and that the bill is brought to Parliament. When Parliament considers the bill at committee, it should also think on how to balance workplace health and safety requirements. Making it easier for employers to add testing requirements to employment contracts may help.

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