While 420 was celebrated across Canada, there were reverberations across the world. In Fort McMurray, the celebrations came a little bit late. The stigma of marijuana due to a corporate culture of drug testing means that users must remain in the closet and go to great lengths to conceal their use. Yet it took just one oil worker to fail his drug test and take to the streets! After a picture of this one man protest went viral on the internet on a local Facebook community group “Fort McMurray Everything Goes,” the protest grew. Fort McMurray is famous around the world for being the heart of the tar sands, otherwise known as the oil sands. Whether or not you agree with the extraction of fossil fuels, the notion of denying someone employment based on their drug of choice is inherently wrong. Harry Slade writes exclusively for CSSDP on his recent experience of being denied employment based on his past marijuana use, and the support he received in his protest for drug policy reform.

Harry Slade

I’m writing here today as, evidently, speaking your mind in a place where few people have the time (or will) to do so attracts attention of the best kind to yourself. My name is Harry Slade, I’m 24 years old, and as of the moment I am a worker in Canada’s Athabasca Oil Sands. Well, sort of. I’m not working at the moment, because the fact that I partook in the consumption of marijuana at some point in the past has rendered me unemployable, at least until I provide a urine specimen free of THC. I felt deeply discriminated against by this experience, and it provoked me enough to express my views in public.

The original catalyst for my demonstration was the fact that I felt I was unjustly denied a job because I had THC in my system. Alas, the wide-spread usage of drug testing of employees that tests for past drug usage does nothing at all to prevent future accidents from occurring. While alcohol testing is immediate, drug testing is not. The Ontario Court of Appeal even recognized this in Entrop v. Imperial Oil:

“On the other hand, the Court noted that drug tests such as urinalysis cannot measure whether a person is under the effect of a drug at the time the test is administered. A drug test can only detect past drug use. An employer who administers a drug test cannot tell whether that person is impaired at that moment, or is likely to be impaired while on the job.”

Frankly by the amount of support received over the weekend, it wouldn’t surprise me if the majority of folks working in the oil patch didn’t have THC in their system! In the oil patch, drug culture is so prevalent that an entire black market has emerged to help workers obtain clean urine. Detox kits are $120, piss bags go for $100 and you can fill them with fake urine which you can wear in a pouch under your shirt. Clean urine is available for purchase on the black market locally, and you can even buy it in a powder dehydrated form online!
Let’s start at the beginning shall we? Last Friday May 9th, I made a sign proclaiming my desire to legalize marijuana, and took to Franklin Ave, which is downtown Fort McMurray’s “Main St”. The response I was met with in the ensuing 2 hours was overwhelming. The minute I stepped out onto the sidewalk, I was met with a cacophony of honks and cheers. Folks rolled their windows down, and slowed down to tell me how I am their hero, I am a boss, the man, champ, etc. At first glance you would assume owning a diesel-powered pick-up truck is a requirement for residency, yet even still, the few pedestrians in Fort McMurray stopped, shook my hand, and shared their own experiences with marijuana in Canada.

I had no expectations for my actions to spread virally across the internet, but I discovered later that evening that my actions had caused a firestorm on the Facebook group “Fort McMurray Everything Goes” perhaps the most active online forum for residents of Fort McMurray. The response inspired me enough to get in touch with Lisa Campbell, Outreach Director at CSSDP, and we organized ourselves to continue to demonstrate the following Sunday. We created a giant sparkly banner which we erected downtown on Mother’s Day, which coincidentally was also the day that the by-election in Fort McMurray was called. If I thought the response on Friday was overwhelming, Sunday was monumental!

Right as we set up, Lisa and I were promptly approached by the manager of the local McDonald’s restaurant, a young lady who politely asked us to move as she didn’t want to see that in front of her business. I replied that we were on public property, as we were on the sidewalk, but not wishing to create unnecessary friction with members of our community, acquiesced to her request. The ensuing few hours were, astonishing in my opinion, even considering my experiences on Friday. Once again there were honks and cheers from a diversity of Fort McMurray citizens. A man who appeared to be homeless was the first to pass, he responded that we should “legalize crack!” An older dude in a massive lifted truck stopped to pitch us a joint, proclaiming “It’s hash, enjoy guys” before pulling away with a roar of his engine. While we didn’t smoke the joints that were thrown our way, many of our supporters picked them up and indulged for us. Two younger guys took it upon themselves to buy us some pop from the McDonald’s, some other younger gents tossed a hand full of change to us while sounding hand held air-horns out the window. Judging from the response, Fort McMurray-ites would like to see the legalization of marijuana, for both medical and recreational purposes. While Alberta is the heartland of Conservative Canada, one of the most “liberal” ideas is met with enthusiasm. Why? Because it just makes sense!