Nightmare for employers if cannabis legalised - expert

An employment expert is warning legalising cannabis will be a nightmare for employers wanting to ensure health and safety in the workplace.

On Tuesday, the Government announced Kiwis will vote on legislation to legalise recreational cannabis at the 2020 election.

Draft legislation will include an age restriction of 20 years to use cannabis, regulations and commercial supply controls, and limited home-growing options.

Cannabis consumption would be allowed within private homes and on licenced premises.

That concerns employment law specialist Max Whitehead, who told Newshub employers already face the issue of alcohol consumption disrupting workplace productivity and health and safety.

Legalising cannabis may only add fuel to that fire and lead to frequent drug tests for employees.

"We have already got alcohol which is impairing employees' judgement and their ability to work in unsafe situations. Drugs are only going to compound that matter," he said.

"Health and safety is going to be premium at the moment, and you are going to find that the employers are going to be honour bound or duty bound to test employees on a regular basis.

"People will lose their job if they are under the influence or be known to have been consuming it outside of company rules."

But employers may already be dealing with employees who have consumed the drug.

The Cabinet paper proposing the draft legislation noted that, despite prohibition, cannabis is already the "most commonly used illegal drug in New Zealand" and "various studies indicate around 10 to 12 percent of adults use cannabis at least once a year and nearly a third of those people are Māori."

Green MP and drug reform spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick said the referendum was about moving to a "full-on health-based approach" that makes sure the products don't become more accessible.

The 2020 referendum is a commitment in the Labour-Greens Confidence and Supply Agreement, as well as a longstanding commitment from New Zealand First to hold a referendum on the issue.