Navigating Workplace Drug Testing

Astrid’s government submission into the Workplace Drug Testing Inquiry. Learn more about Astrid and our advocacy for patients

At Astrid, our journey from day one has been about more than just providing care; it’s been about advocating for change. Founded in 2020 by Lisa Nguyen, a visionary and trained pharmacist in the medicinal cannabis space, Astrid has stood by our patients every step of the way, advocating for a world where their treatment choices are respected and understood. 

Astrid welcomes the opportunity to work closely with governments to look at a constructive step for employers in developing a policy that addresses the potential health and safety risks of medicinal cannabis as a potentially impairing medication. 

We have a strong focus on education, support, compliance, advocacy and transparency. We value patient safety as well as ensuring that patients are not discriminated against for being treated with medicinal cannabis.

In early December 2023, Astrid made an official submission to the Victorian Government, contributing to an investigation focused on workplace drug testing. This investigation, Inquiry into Workplace Drug Testing, carried out by a dedicated committee, aims to thoroughly review and assess the laws and regulatory measures governing drug testing in the workplace. A significant part of this inquiry is examining how prescription medicinal cannabis is treated within these frameworks. Additionally, the committee is evaluating if the existing workplace drug testing laws and procedures potentially discriminate against individuals.

Everyday Australians: Inquiry into Workplace Discrimination 

Since its legalisation in 2016, medicinal cannabis has proven to be an effective treatment option for many people in Victoria, prompting a significant reassessment of workplace drug policies for thousands across the state. 

In light of this, it’s imperative that workplace alcohol and other drugs policies are updated to align with current regulations, ensuring that medicinal cannabis is recognised as a legitimate form of treatment. This acknowledgment is crucial not only for the welfare of hundreds of thousands of everyday Australians but also for fostering a more inclusive and understanding work environment.

Medicinal cannabis patients were estimated to be almost 3% of the Australian population in 2022 and over one million prescriptions were issued in 2023.

Within our extensive community of tens of thousands of patients, a notable segment has faced issues related to workplace drug testing. Specifically, some individuals have been unjustly dismissed or denied employment opportunities due to their use or disclosure of medicinal cannabis for therapeutic purposes. This situation underscores the pressing need for broader awareness and more inclusive employment practices concerning medicinal cannabis treatment.

Misconception of Impairment: Rethinking Workplace Drug Policy 

The recognition that substance use, including both prescription medications and illegal drugs, can influence workplace safety is an important concern for employers and policy makers alike. However, prevailing workplace policies often fail to reflect a nuanced understanding of cannabis and its components, such as THC (Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol). This lack of distinction has resulted in unjust workplace drug policies affecting individuals lawfully using medicinal cannabis as prescribed by their doctors.

One of the critical misconceptions surrounding THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, is its detection in drug tests. Often, the presence of THC is interpreted as an indication of current impairment, despite the fact that these tests primarily reveal past use. It’s vital to understand that the effects of THC are temporary, and its presence in a drug test does not inherently signify an ongoing impairment or an inability to fulfil work responsibilities.

Supporting this, a recent study suggests that the acute impact of prescribed medicinal cannabis on cognitive function is minimal among patients with chronic health conditions. This challenges the persistent stigma that equates THC detection with impairment, undermining the legitimacy of medicinal cannabis use.

In light of these findings, it is essential for workplace policies to evolve, acknowledging that a positive test for THC does not automatically imply an inability to perform job duties safely and effectively. Moving beyond outdated perceptions and towards a more informed approach can ensure that policies are fair and inclusive, respecting the rights of individuals using prescribed medicinal cannabis while maintaining workplace safety.

Astrid’s team of doctors, nurses and pharmacists advocate for plant-medicine patients in Australia

Medical Discrimination: Policy Review & Fair Framework

Astrid envisions a future where workplaces foster inclusivity, recognising prescribed medicinal cannabis without bias.

We urge Victorian employers to revise their drug and alcohol policies to support and safeguard all employees, particularly those prescribed medicinal cannabis for health management. This involves working closely with employees and their healthcare providers to acknowledge medicinal cannabis as a prescribed treatment. The goal is to cultivate a supportive atmosphere, free from stigma, where medicinal use, as guided by a healthcare professional, is respected.

For policy development, it’s crucial for employers to give employees the chance to collaborate with their prescribing doctor to manage their conditions in a way that doesn’t hinder their work performance.

Employers should support employees who are prescribed medicinal cannabis as treatment, seeking to create a framework that considers use, as per the doctor’s instructions, to be managed responsibly.

When an employee discloses, or if it’s discovered, they are using medication (including cannabis for therapeutic purposes) that could lead to impairment or reduced functionality, the employer must accommodate by implementing the appropriate policies and procedures.

Internationally, Canada stands out for its approach in a legalised cannabis market, focusing on assessing impairment rather than simply detecting THC. Inspired by such models, a potential pathway for Australia might involve adapting these proven guidelines to meet the specific demands and context of the Australian landscape.

Astrid’s Ongoing Advocacy

As we continue to navigate the complexities of medicinal cannabis regulation and workplace policies, Astrid remains committed to advocating for our patients’ rights and well-being. We are grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this critical conversation and look forward to seeing positive changes in how medicinal cannabis users are treated in the workplace.

Together, we can work towards a more inclusive and understanding approach to medicinal cannabis in Australia.

If you have a story you’d like to share with Astrid, please email media@astrid.healh 

For more information on navigating natural healthcare, contact the expert team at Astrid Dispensary & Clinic.