With the impending legalization of marijuana in Canada, what do plan sponsors need to consider? How will the workplace be affected by both recreational and medical marijuana? What are the legal implications? Should benefits plans cover medical marijuana?

All these topics and more will be on the table during a panel discussion at Benefits Canada’s 2018 Benefits and Pension Summit on April 16 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Toronto.

One of the panelists at the session, Loretta Bouwmeester, a partner at Mathews, Dinsdale & Clark LLP, hopes plan sponsors will leave the session ready to start preparing for these issues before addressing them becomes a necessity.

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“We want to arm you with proactive tools to meet what will be a challenging work environment come summer,” she says. “And that’s the other challenge: we don’t even know what the actual legalization date will be for marijuana.”

Speaking to group benefits, Bouwmeester says plan sponsors are seeing a fast evolution of issues around the coverage for marijuana, including the potential costs. They should also be prepared for employee requests for information.

“Next thing — this will be really interesting — is how will authorizations or prescriptions intersect with over-the-counter self-medicating. Will they reimburse it? Usually the answer is no, clearly, because over-the-counter meds are not. But that will be a thing we can help equip them with, . . . So educating employees will be really key out of this. Giving them tools to educate their workers on coverage and application.”

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Another topic to be covered is labour implications, such as in collective agreements, adds Bouwmeester. “It will be a membership-driven initiative and unions will raise this with employers.”

Also appearing on the panel will be Dr. Arif Bhimji, medical director at Magna International; Nedzad Pojskic, pharmacy strategy leader at Green Shield Canada; and Jonathan Tafler, senior director of employer health solutions at Shoppers Drug Mart.

Bhimji will share scientific evidence on common claims, cognitive issues, pharmacokinetics, impairment and dosage. “The one takeaway that everybody should leave with is: this is just another drug, and really shouldn’t have a special category or special treatment,” he says. “You just need to have a policy that covers off any impairing medication and have a process and a system in place for that.”

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“It’s going to be dynamic and interesting and it’s based on real-life scenarios,” says Bouwmeester. “We will be talking about actual, real-life situations and the intersection.

“One of the real focuses is on the intersection. How do the lawyers help the doctors, how do the doctors help the lawyers and, more importantly, how do both serve the client?”

Find out more about marijuana in the workplace of tomorrow at the 2018 Benefits and Pension Summit.

Register for the event here.