Interview with Alison McMahon — Founder & CEO, Cannabis at Work
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You are going to be presenting at the Psychedelic Career Day on a panel. What will be your angle of presentation? What will you be bringing to the panel?
Alison McMahon: The panel is talking about how the various panelists got into their careers. In my case, it is focused on cannabis and cannabis legalization. I will be sharing my journey of how I got into this sector.
Jacobsen: With regards to the field of psychedelia, some of the conversations around Psychedelic Career Day is that the university system does not necessarily see the psychedelic field as a legitimate discipline or field of study. Why do you consider psychedelia a legitimate field of study?
McMahon: I will talk from the cannabis background, which crosses over and is relevant. To be frank, I am not an expert in the psychedelic field. I was asked to participate in the panel and I find it very interesting. I am happy to share my background as a much as possible.
When we look at cannabis, given the scheduling of cannabis as a schedule 1 drug in the US and a schedule 2 drug in Canada, it has lead to a lot of limitations in terms of studying cannabis for medical purposes.
We are starting to see some movement and some change now. But what that means, is we are behind when it comes to the science of cannabis and being able to speak to its medical benefits and medical efficacy.
With some of the psychedelic drugs, it is a similar situation; there have been li
mitations on studying them for medical purposes. So, that limits the amount of knowledge that we have on the medical benefits or the medical potential and the amount of application that we have seen of those substances for medical or therapeutic reasons.
Jacobsen: Taking on step away from the particular panel, as well as Psychedelic Carrer Day, though associated with it, you found Cannabis at Work. What inspired you to found it? In other words, where did you see a need that you could found an organization that could fulfill that need?
McMahon: I was a human resources specialist and an entrepreneur prior to this work. I was involved in human resources. I helped employers with a variety of human resources topics. In 2015, in the Summer, I started to see and hear more about cannabis in the news.
It started along with what was happening in the US at the state level. It was pre-Trudeau, but, he was running and marijuana was part of his platform. It was a time when cannabis started to hit my radar more.
I realized that it was, on the one hand, one big opportunity for drug reform. I realized that there is a really big challenge for employers, especially, in the sectors that have employees that may have been prescribed cannabis medically, but the employer is really uneducated about the complexities between strains with THC or CBD in them — and how that affects impairment or not.
I realized there was a gap in knowledge. That there was something they were grappling with. It was helping employers gain knowledge and also update their own drug and alcohol policies while maintaining workplace safety and being respectful of human rights for individuals who are using cannabis for medical purposes.
Due to our participation in the cannabis sector in Canada, around Cannabis at Work, in the Spring of last year with the legalization of marijuana announcement, that is when we launched our staffing division. That makes us Canada’s only staffing agency focusing exclusively on the regulated cannabis sector in Canada.
Jacobsen: Often, with psychedelics and non-psychedelics, there are myths in the public mind. You mentioned some. What are one or two of those bigger myths that float around? What are the empirical truths that dispel them?
McMahon: I think that the biggest myth or point of fear for employers is using medical cannabis is that the employee will be high all of the time and be a huge safety or productivity risk in the workplace. Employers and the general public do not understand some of the nuances of medical cannabis.
Somebody, if they are taking it in the evening and they do not work until 12 or more hours later the next day, they may not be impaired, but they may be able to continue doing their job. There may not need to be any formal accommodation of that.
I think that is probably the biggest challenge, which is the lack of nuance in knowledge about cannabis. Everyone views cannabis as an impairment causing substance. But people can be using these strains with very little THC in them.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Alison.