Shortage of skilled workers predicted if New Zealand legalizes recreational cannabis

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A senior official with one construction company is voicing concern that there could be a potential shortage of skilled labour if Kiwis vote to legalize recreational cannabis this September.

On Sept. 19, New Zealanders will have their say regarding the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill. If passed, among other things, people 20 and older would be allowed to buy as much as 14 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) daily from licensed outlets and could grow up to two plants in their homes (with a maximum of four per household).

While the bill has attracted both supporters and detractors, David Howard, managing director of Construction Contracts Ltd., says he worries a green light for legal weed will make it harder to find skilled construction workers.

Drug testing, including pre-employment, post-incident and randomly, is already a common practice in the high-risk industry, said Howard, according to Newshub. Pointing out that construction has a zero-tolerance policy and that testing is sure to continue if adult-use weed becomes legal, he said he is concerned a large group of potential workers could be ruled out.

Howard suggested that legalization might encourage more people to use drugs and, possibly, become dependent. “We’ve got a limited pool of people already, potentially going to be more limited,” he told Newshub.

Finding skilled workers is already a challenge, notes a 2019 report from Civil Contractors New Zealand. “By far the largest obstacle to staff recruitment was seen to be a lack of skilled workers; this challenge is followed by a lack of motivated people and the inability to pass drug tests,” the report reads.

Two-thirds of companies polled thing legalization “would negatively impact their business.” / Photo: /undefined undefined / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Photo: undefined undefined / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Asked about the proposed legalization of adult-use weed cannabis, 67 per cent of the companies surveyed reported that “it would negatively impact their business.”

The New Zealand Drug Foundation (NZDF) questions the connection between legalizing weed and greater use and dependence. “We’ve seen in Canada, that’s had legislation for over 18 months, that cannabis use in the workplace did not change when it went from illegal to legal,” foundation CEO Ross Bell told Newshub.

The construction industry’s current urine testing approach will, however, need to change given that weed compounds can be detectable for a very long time, even though the person is not impaired, Bell added.

The bill does not cover medicinal cannabis, hemp, impaired driving or occupational health and safety issues. / Photo: TonyLomas / iStock / Getty Images Plus TonyLomas / iStock / Getty Images Plus

The proposed bill does not cover medicinal cannabis, hemp, impaired driving or occupational health and safety issues.

Overall, NZDF supports the proposed changes. “Under this bill, the government takes control over the cannabis market, from seed to sale,” Bell says in a statement. “It raises new revenue with an excise tax and special cannabis levy to be spent on treatment and drug education services for the benefit of all New Zealanders,” he adds.

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