High em­ploy­ees could mean higher costs when marijuana le­gal­ized

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - DAN HEAL­ING CALGARY —

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.

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