Alberta Iron Worker Says He’s Barred From His Trade While Using Medical Cannabis

Medical cannabis may have been legal for years, but some patients are still being treated like criminals.

Johnathan Dickson is an Edmonton iron worker who said he has been refused work from his union after beginning to use medicinal cannabis in March and, instead, has been forced to attend substance abuse programs by his employer.

“I told them I had a medical marijuana prescription and they just pretty much told me it’s all invalid and I have to go see a substance abuse expert,” said Dickson. “From that point they told me I had to stay off my medication for two years from that day and go to a rehab program because of the THC in my system.”

Dickson said despite his use of cannabis being completely legal, documents that guide workplace safety in his industry, like The Canadian Model for Providing a Safe Workplace, haven’t been updated to allow for the use of medical cannabis.

Occupational Health and Safety told Dickson that he shouldn’t be going through this battle if he has the legal documentation for his medical cannabis, but Dickson said because there’s no set guidelines or laws in place, his position being “safety sensitive” is being used by officials to deny him his job.

“Any job can be called safety sensitive,” Dickson said. “But they could have put me in another position where I wasn’t walking on steel or iron — I could have been handing out tools, or bolt sorting — but they never gave me the chance to give me that option, they turned me away.”

Canada’s Duty to Accommodate rules require employers to make accommodations for employees as long as they do not create “undue hardship” at the workplace.

“I’ve brought in my prescription, I’ve brought in all the documents that I can show them,” Dickson said. “I’m not trying to argue to smoke at work, I’m just trying to argue to work at my job and then going home to medicate, and they’re telling me ‘no, you can’t do that.'”

Now without work for several months and with mounting bills, Dickson is urgently trying to return to his trade, with no success.

“If I wanted to work though the union I would have to quit medicating with my prescribed drug and if I wanted to do this trade I could go do a non-union or find another job to do, is what they’re telling me,” Dickson said. “I’m pretty happy in my union, I don’t want to be kicked out of it because of a medication that I’m on.”

The iron worker is now seeking legal council over what he called discrimination.

“I’m trying to just change the standards. I’m not just trying to fight for myself anymore, there are other people in the trades who are medically prescribed marijuana and we have to fear for our jobs if we come out,” Dickson said. “I want employers to understand that just because we are medicating with marijuana does not mean that we can’t be a functioning member of society and we can’t do our jobs everyday, like every other person does.

“I just want to get back to work.”

Dickson is currently gathering signatures in a petition that he hopes will push employers to update and change their rules around medical cannabis.