The highest court in the land has ruled in the interest of personal liberty, stating that people should be allowed to grow, possess and smoke cannabis in the privacy of their own home. What does this mean for health and safety in the workplace, dangerous environments, and road safety? GARETH GREATHEAD tries to find out…

The effects of cannabis consumption vary depending on method of consumption, quality and frequency of use. Effects can include highs such as euphoria, relaxation, and relief from stress and pain, to lows including increased appetite, impaired motor skills, confusion, loss of concentration and decreased motivation.

Withdrawal symptoms may include headaches, anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbance.

The effects normally reach their peak within 30 minutes and can last up to three hours or more if eaten.

Cannabis can be detected in urine between three and five days after occasional consumption, up to 15 days for heavy users, and up to 30 days for chronic users. Currently, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can be detected in blood, urine and saliva tests.

However, unlike alcohol, one cannot determine a level of impairment based on test results.

Using medical cannabis

Alwyn Viljoen, transport editor at the The Witness in KwaZulu- Natal, and advocate at the Cannabis Development Council of South Africa, sees the ruling as a victory.

Viljoen started using cannabis two years ago when going through a severe case of gout. “I did some research and found out how to make myself some oil. I rubbed it on my foot and literally watched the swelling go down.”

Surprised with the result he started using it to treat a number of ailments he was experiencing at the time.

“After the topical oil I started whole-plant micro-dosing and got relief from the pain experienced with rheumatoid arthritis. Not long after that I was elated to find out that a previously diagnosed melanoma had vanished,” exclaims Viljoen. He adds that people who want to use medicinal cannabis should grow their own plants and stay away from the stronger strands.

“Marijuana plants are known to rejuvenate the soil in which they grow,” adds Viljoen.

Cannabis in the workplace

Jan du Toit, senior consultant at SA Labour Guide, says: “Many citizens and employees will undoubtedly welcome the Constitutional Court’s judgement, but this may leave employers confused and concerned.

“Although an employee may now claim to have a legal right to private consumption of cannabis, does that imply that workplace policies in this regard have become null and void? Can an employee raise the Constitutional Court judgement as defence and as such expect to be exonerated from any wrongdoing? The short and simple answer to this question is no,” Du Toit says.

As per the Mine Health and Safety Act of 1996, no person that is in a state of intoxication may be allowed access to a mine. In addition, the General Safety Regulation 2A, of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, stipulates that an employer may not allow any person who is, or who appears to be, under the influence of an intoxicating substance, access to the workplace.

“Based on the requirements of the aforementioned legislation, it is reasonable to conclude that the Constitutional Court judgement will not offer any protection to employees against disciplinary action should they act in contravention of company policy.

“Employees are warned that unlike alcohol, which will not be detectable 12 hours after the last drink, the Sunday-afternoon joint may well result in dismissal for intoxication in the workplace up to 30 days later,” informs Du Toit.

Operating on a high

The MD of MasterDrive, Eugene Herbert, says: “Last year the Central Drug Authority stated that cannabis use could double the number of crashes on South African roads. As it stands, South Africa is not well equipped to tackle the increase of cannabis use on the roads.”

Rhys Evans, director at ALCO-Safe, says that testing for marijuana intoxication is a lot more complex than simply doing a breathalyser. “The problem is THC remains in a user’s system for much longer and this makes it tricky to establish limits and laws around marijuana use.

“In theory, any person caught with traces of marijuana in their system whilst driving can be arrested and prosecuted. It is essential that regulations are drawn and parameters set, to avoid a spike in intoxication-related traffic incidents and ensure that our roads remain safe,” says Evans.

Will anything change?

According to the website drugaware.co.za, in the early 1990s, mine managers in South Africa turned a blind eye to the use of cannabis due to a perception that it made employees work harder and decreased their propensity to complain.

Viljoen says: “The reality is that there are already people driving (and working) under the influence and those who use cannabis will continue to do so. I highly doubt that the relaxation of legislation is going to contribute to the ‘greening’ of the city.”

Viljoen explains that there is a big difference between being high and being stoned, which requires the activation of THC in the plant. “If someone is stoned their spatial awareness and memory are impaired. Conversely, being high puts you into an enhanced state of being. Your senses come alive and you can, hear, feel and see things better.”

Currently, physical appearance and testing for confirmation is the only way to judge if an employee or driver is under the influence of cannabis. In the interest of safety and progression, more will need to be done to prove intoxication without infringing on an employee’s right to use.

It will be interesting to see how the legislation will find the balance…

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