Spotlight Series: Alison McMahon, Founder and CEO of Cannabis at Work

In the world of human resource gigs, Alison McMahon is some kind of unicorn: she bridges the gap between cannabis patients and their employers.

Can you tell us about the work that you do?

Cannabis At Work provides education and strategies to employers managing cannabis use in the context of their workplace.

We educate employers on their responsibilities for managing medical cannabis and reset expectations with employees on how recreational use can affect their job via our cannabis awareness training. We also help to update or develop drug and alcohol policies in light of the changing regulations.

In other words, we make the legalization of cannabis less scary for employers.

Why did you first become interested in working in the field?

A couple of years ago I started hearing more and more about cannabis legalization in Canada. I think it’s fascinating that there is a new industry evolving in real-time.

How did Cannabis at Work get its start?

My business background is in human resources but I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mind. I had an HR consulting practice and commercialized an HR tech product prior to my interest in cannabis.

Once cannabis was on my radar I quickly realized that legalization creates all sorts of challenges for employers and started developing expertise, products and services to address those challenges.

What are the biggest challenges facing workers relative to cannabis and employment?

Safety is at the core of the issue. If someone holds a safety-sensitive position and consumes cannabis medically or recreationally, the concern is they could report for work impaired. To complicate the matter, we don’t have a method to test for active impairment. So employees consuming cannabis outside of work hours risk failing a drug test because it only detects recent use. The system is broken and without technology to detect active impairment, it will stay that way.

For employers, there is a risk of occupational health and safety infractions and human rights grievances if they don’t manage this issue properly. Our services are focused on equipping employers with education and strategies so they can cope with the changing cannabis landscape.

What's the most challenging part of your line of work?

Anyone working in the cannabis space is faced with a lot of unknowns. We simply need more research and science on cannabis. This makes it tough for employers because sometimes they are faced with two options, neither good.

For example, they can fire an otherwise good employee for cannabis use (not a great option) or risk sending an employee who will test positive to a zero tolerance job site (also not a good option). Both have risks and neither is ideal. These are the types of decisions employers are facing.

How have things changed relative to attitudes about cannabis in Canada since you've been working in the industry?

I think that attitudes are shifting generally. More and more people have seen amazing outcomes in family members or friends who have turned to medical cannabis. People are intelligent and realize the war on drugs hasn’t worked.

I often think about attitudes on cannabis as a spectrum of prohibitionist to innovator. Where people are on the continuum still varies greatly, in my experience.

How are you feeling about the future of the industry in Canada?

Canada is really emerging as a leader in the regulated and legalized cannabis space. It’s fascinating to watch. While it’s not a perfect system I am excited to watch it grow and evolve. It really satisfies my inner business geek!

What kinds of opportunities are there for women in the emerging industry?

I think I heard Jazmin Hupp, Founder of Women Grow said it best. To summarize:

Today women are participating in entrepreneurship and business more than ever. Maybe there’s not perfect equality, but we’re here in big numbers. This means that as the cannabis industry emerges out of prohibition there are just as many opportunities for women as there are for men.

In the past when industries emerged, women were not running businesses, commercializing products and generally kicking ass. Today we are and can stake out our niche in the sector.
— Alison McMahon

If you had any advice for women looking to break in to cannabis, what would you say?

Just fucking launch already (a phrase I learned in my technology start up days). But seriously - get out there, talk about your product or service, meet people, build relationships. If it’s not the right business idea then you will have met cool people, had great experiences and learned something along the way. You can leverage this in your next venture.

Cannabis at Work:

On the web:

Twitter: @cannabisatwork


Phone: (780) 953-3527