Cannabis legalization in Canada has created a new level of responsibility for licensees and their staff.
Although licensees don’t sell cannabis, they need to be aware if patrons are using it, either before they arrive or while they are at the premises. It’s especially important to monitor customers who are using alcohol and cannabis together, as co-use can lead to greater impairment than either substance alone.
Monitoring cannabis use is challenging. Unlike alcohol, where a given number of standard drinks will lead to a predictable level of impairment, there is no standard with cannabis. Products vary in potency, delivery methods vary, and the active ingredients can affect people differently. It’s also hard to know how much someone has had since cannabis is consumed off-premises.
This means that licensees and servers must rely on observation when it comes to cannabis use.
Tim Ellison, the director of operations at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, has many years’ experience in the food and beverage industry and offers some tips on what to look for.
Tips for spotting cannabis use
- Be aware that anyone can be a cannabis user. “Cannabis cuts across all demographics and socio-economic groups. Whether you’re working in a club or a fine dining restaurant, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of cannabis use and co-use with alcohol,” says Ellison.
- Use your nose. Marijuana is pungent. If people have smoked it recently, they’ll carry the trademark aroma. However, note that vaping leaves less aroma and edibles none at all.
- Look for physical signs. Users will have red, bloodshot and glassy eyes and, if they’re smoking cannabis, they may also have resin stains on their thumbs and forefingers. Patrons may appear confused, drowsy or disoriented and may seem more impaired than expected for the number of drinks they’ve had.
- Observe behaviour. Cannabis affects people differently. For example, some people get very talkative and others become quiet. Generally, though, cannabis users will seem distracted, have trouble following a train of thought, laugh at things that aren’t funny, and order a lot of food. They may, as with alcohol impairment, behave rudely, slur their speech, and have trouble walking or balancing.
- Watch for a change in behaviour. Customers may, for example, start out animated and become quiet and reserved as the night goes on.
- Know the signs of edibles overuse. If someone is sweating, cold, anxious, and has difficulty standing and walking, they may have overused edible cannabis products. With edibles it’s difficult to get the right dose, and it’s easy to take too much. If the patron is very distressed, call poison control or 911.
- Watch for customers going outside as a group and look for a change in appearance or behaviour when they return. Cigarette smokers typically return as they’ve left; cannabis smokers are usually more animated.
- Listen to the conversation. When a group is leaving to smoke cannabis, there is more urgency and discussion about it – a joint is usually shared, so everyone needs to leave at the same time. A cigarette break typically involves less discussion.
- Have a staff member check places that cannabis might be used. Patrons may be smoking joints, or even drinking, when they step outside. Check bathrooms and stairwells, too. Cannabis use may be legal, but the Cannabis Licensing and Control Act prohibits smoking in a workplace or entrance to a workplace.
- Communicate your observations with other staff members. This is especially important with cannabis use, as observation is key.
- If you suspect cannabis impairment or co-impairment, follow the same procedures you would with alcohol impairment. Slow service, encourage patrons to switch to soft drinks, and refuse service if necessary. Document repeat offenders in the incident log, and have emergency numbers, including poison control, available.
- Remember that it doesn’t take much to create impairment. “If someone has just one beer and smokes a joint, their impairment could exceed safe driving limits. In time we’ll get more sophisticated in our ability to gauge these substances, but right now our priority is to keep people safe,” says Ellison.
For more related articles for employers and liquor licensees, check out our Cannabis in the Workplace section.