Well Being: August 2018

Cannabis in the firefighter workplace
July 16, 2018
Written by Elias Markou
Call it what you want–pot, dope, weed, hash, joint or marijuana–the Canadian federal government has decided to legalize cannabis in 2018. In recent media releases and interviews, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said legalization is still on track.
However, assuming BiIl C-45, the Cannabis Act is approved and passed by the senate and sent for royal assent by June 7, it will take two to three more months before cannabis can be legally purchased for all types of use.

As the senate takes a moment to give cannabis use in Canada a “sober second thought”, governments, retailers, manufacturers, and growers are gearing up for what is forecasted to be a multi-billion dollar industry. This has left communities, universities, municipalities and workplaces scrambling to create policies and standards for cannabis use on the job.

Most of the provincial governments across Canada passed new laws after extensive public and stakeholder consultation as to how, where and who can buy and use cannabis in the province. Recreational cannabis will have very similar regulations as alcohol and tobacco, with some differences from province to province. Medicinal cannabis will be subject to completely different regulations from recreational cannabis use.

Now, let us insert fire fighting and the firefighter into this equation. Please pay attention, firefighters, captains, chiefs, municipalities, unions and other stakeholders like insurance companies, medical professionals and more. The list goes on and on, and we can already assume that cannabis use will have a great impact that will change the landscape of the firefighter workplace forever. I will try to unpack this Pandora’s box the best I can. As a medical practitioner, I can see both the risks and benefits of cannabis.

There are two key areas where fire fighting and cannabis needs to be looked at. The first involves recreational use. The new cannabis legislation explicitly outlines that with cannabis in your system it is illegal to drive drug-impaired; academics and lawmakers say it is just as dangerous as driving drunk. The legislation is strict for recreational cannabis, there will be zero tolerance for commercial drivers and those operating class A-F drivers licences, this does also apply to all firefighters operating a fire truck. I am sure fire departments will be coming out very shortly with cannabis SOP in the coming weeks and months.

Academics and researchers agree a one-time user will show positive TCH/cannabinoid readings for up to five days. To clarify, users are people who consume all products made from cannabis whether they smoke it, infuse it or eat it. Frequent users, meaning people consuming cannabis every night, will show positive THC/cannabinoid readings for up to 15 days. A heavy cannabis user, meaning two to three times a day, will show positive THC/cannabinoid readings for up to 30 days. Cleaning cannabis out of your system is a slow process because THC and cannabinoids are fat soluble. Firefighter users will have active cannabis ingredients in their body days after usage. A pressing question for all firefighters remains, are there moments where the active cannabis ingredients are still in the body while they are on the job? Depending on the timeline mentioned above, yes there can be moments where THC and cannabinoids are still in the body. Firefighters need to be diligent as to when cannabis is used in relationship to their shifts.

Consuming recreational cannabis in the workplace is illegal and will continue to be after legalization. The fire service, as an employer, will know the rules for medical cannabis and will be required to address workplace hazards, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). Firefighters on the other hand need to be aware of work place safety and the hazard cannabis user can be to themselves or to others in the workplace.

What is even more interesting in the emergency services and the firefighting profession is the growing awareness of mental health and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Emerging new medical strategies for treatment of PTSD in the military, emergency services and the fire service include the use of cannabis to treat symptoms and conditions.

We know cannabis is here to stay, and for some in the fire service it will be a life-saving treatment. For others, it will be trying to find the balance of work and recreational use of cannabis.


Dr. Elias Markou is one very busy naturopathic doctor. He is in private practice in Mississauga, Ont., and is the chief medical officer for the Halton Hills Fire Department. Dr. Markou was a firefighter for six years; he is a firefighter health expert and blogger who is regularly featured on television and radio and in print. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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