Rural contractors are concerned that a referendum vote in favour of legalising cannabis would lead to more risks around drug-affected people working in the industry, which is entirely focused on the use of machinery. At a recent board meeting of Rural Contractors NZ Canterbury member Martin Bruce raised the issue, saying contractors are focused on keeping their staff safe, yet there was a prospect of marijuana being made even more widely accessible.

RCNZ CEO Roger Parton says there are major concerns within the industry about cannabis being legalised. “Our members operate a whole range of machinery from tractors to complex, expensive harvesters. They apply a range of herbicides and other chemicals which need to be carefully measured, mixed and applied to be safe and get the right result for farmers.”

“While we understand the cannabis vote at the election is a non-binding referendum, chances are if it gets more than 50% support, it would be progressed into legislation.”

Roger Parton says the information about what would happen if cannabis was legalised shows there would be a lot of onus on employers to manage the risks of staff using the drug. “We are advised that we would need to do pre-employment testing as safety-sensitive workplaces and require a clean drug test before any job offer is made. We would also have to make random and regular drug tests a feature of new employment contracts.

“For existing employee contractors, even the Government is advising it is complex to insert a clause allowing for drug testing. If one of our members needs to test someone who’s had an accident or near miss or who seems drug-affected, they then have to take into account the Privacy Act, the Human Rights Act and the Bill of Rights Act.

“Frankly, it all seems to be loading more work and risk on contractors while effectively making cannabis more available and legally sanctioned. It would run contrary to every facet of health and safety to be facilitating the entry of more drugs into society and therefore the workforce,” says Roger Parton.