High employees could mean higher costs when marijuana legalized
Oilpatch CEOs fear their costs will rise when the federal government passes recently introduced legislation to legalize recreational marijuana.
The issue of drug use is closely watched in the industry, where workers tend to be young and hazards include long commutes to and from remote drilling sites, wells that produce poisonous or explosive gas and exposure to heavy machinery. Many oil and gas companies have strict bans on alcohol and drugs at work.
Precision Drilling CEO Kevin Neveu, whose Calgary-based firm operates in both Canada and the United States, says his opposition to legalization is supported by his company’s experiences in Colorado after that state legalized the drug in 2014.
He said costs there have increased for employees who need drug counselling or for those who fail drug tests and must be sent home under Precision’s “zero tolerance” drug and alcohol policy.
And it’s more difficult to find new recruits, typically young men, who can pass pre-employment drug tests, he said.
“We have certainly failed more people in Colorado (for drug use) after legalization than we did before,” he said, though he was unable to give specific numbers.
“There’s a link, there’s a cause. Even during the recruitment phase where we warn them we’ll do a test, a surprising number still test positive.”
Canada’s Liberal government campaigned on a promise to legalize marijuana for recreational use, arguing prohibition does not prevent young people from using the drug. It also said too many Canadians end up with criminal records for possessing small amounts and legalization would help remove the criminal element linked to the drug.
But Jeff Tonken, CEO of Calgarybased natural gas producer Birchcliff Energy, agreed with Neveu that employee costs will rise if the government succeeds in legalizing recreational pot by July 1, 2018.
“It’s going to be more costly for us to police the safety of our people,” he said.
He said workers sign an agreement when hired giving permission for random tests for drugs and alcohol consumption.
If someone fails a test, they must leave the job site, he said, but the company may still be responsible for paying for substance abuse treatment or covering a leave of absence.
SureHire Inc., an Edmontonbased drug testing company, charges between $85 and $135 for a 12panel point of collection test or a saliva drug test. A hair drug test costs $275 to $325, but costs rise if the sample is “non-negative” because it must then be sent to a lab for confirmation. Usually, the company pays.
“This is a really good time for companies to review their internal policies and procedures,” said Jason Sheehy, SureHire’s director of occupational health services.