Monday November 25, 2019
By Andrew Ward
Since legalization in October 2018, the Great White North has also become the Great Green North. With adults now able to consume cannabis in Canada, some began to wonder if certain professions would be barred from partaking. The question mostly centered on police officers. Police consuming cannabis does pose a bit of a paradox. On the one hand, they are Canadian adults and should be allowed to enjoy marijuana just like anyone else. On the contrary, they are the law. And some data suggests that racial arrest bias is prevalent in Canada just as it is in the United States.
Maybe some provincial laws were made thinking cops would act as the Canadian version of Super Troopers – and they may be right in some cases. However, the decisions left some fuming and caused a bit of a brouhaha in the lead up to Canada’s legalization. Here’s what went down.
Can Canada’s Cops Consume Cannabis?
When Canada legalized cannabis for adult use, it allowed each province to alter the laws and regulations in some instances. As such, the country has some variation to the rules around police consuming cannabis while off the clock. In most cases, officers can consume pot as long as they can perform their jobs. However, a few exceptions do exist.
Vancouver, Ottawa, Regina and Montreal were some of the first to allow their police to consume while off the clock. These provinces adopted a policy where the officer would be free from scrutiny as long as they were fit for service.
In 2018, Regina Police Chief Evan Bray explained the province's rationale. "We don't tell our employees they cannot drink alcohol in their own time, away from work...But we do expect our officers to show up for work fit for duty and, on occasions where they do consume alcohol in their spare time, they've acquired it legally and used it legally."
Others in Canada's police force seemed to agree and made similar rules for their force. Winnipeg Police Association president Maurice Sabourin explained his rationale. "How can an employer impart how an employee, what they do in their off time?" he said. "I'm sure our members are responsible enough to know they can't be coming to work in an impaired state."
In Vancouver, the province had not reached a decision until just a few weeks before legalization commenced. The Vancouver Police Board debated specific policy points. Namely, a 24-hour pre-shift period of abstinence. Others supported the popular fit for duty policy. In the end, fit for duty became the policy.
A summer recommendation helped tip the scales for the measure. The report pointed out significant holes in the one-day prohibition plan. “Specifying a time frame can create an implicit approval that this period of abstinence is all that’s required to ensure fitness for duty. This can lead to unnecessary labour conflicts where employees are fit for duty but have consumed cannabis within this time frame, or where employees are not fit for duty but mistakenly believe they are as they consumed outside this time frame.”
At the same time, the Canadian military followed suit with the fit for duty policy. Lt.-Gen. Chuck Lamarre told CBC back in 2018 that the military’s stance had some restrictions without prohibiting consumption by its service members. Lamarre explained that the military's policy "allows us to respect the law" while adding "But at the same time, I think Canadians are expecting our operational readiness and our ability to do our business must never be compromised."
28-Day Policy in Some Areas
Not every Canadian province is as lenient on cannabis when it comes to the police force. Both Toronto police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police must be cannabis-free for 28 days before reporting for duty. Ontario police made the decision on research from its medical advisory service, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police as well as the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. The findings were based off how long THC tends to stay stored in the body. The potential impacts THC could have on a person also during that period was also considered. Officers will not have to face random drug testing, though.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police also imposed a 28-day ban before reporting for duty. It cited similar concerns as Ontario’s police officers. The decision did not sit well with some top officials in the police force.
Canadian Police Association head Tom Stamatakis blasted the move just prior to legalization taking effect. He called the decision "beyond ridiculous" claiming that it did not protect officers or the public. Vancouver police Constable Jason Doucette agreed. He said that "In the end, public safety and the safety of our officers is number one. All of our officers understand and we're not anticipating any issues whatsoever."
Calgary Bans Police Cannabis Consumption
There are some places that have banned cannabis consumption altogether for members of the police force. In Calgary, its police are banned outright from consuming cannabis. The province's police union president, Les Kaminski, considered it the "path of least resistance."
Unlike others going on the record about police officers using cannabis off-duty, Kaminski did believe that the idea posed a risk to the public.
That said, the policy was reported to have been put in place without much consulting of its commission. Meanwhile, one board member was on the committee creating the rules. However, Kaminski did say that the policy could be re-evaluated in the future.
Wait and See
The debate seems settled for now. We'll likely need to wait and see if any other reports about cops consuming edibles lead to harsher restrictions. Or, if any updated pieces of information sway Ontario, Calgary or the Mounties to re-think their policies.
With some researchers even unsure of which policy was best, only time will tell which policies are most effective and if anything else develops. At this time, the issue appears done and dusted with provincial police policy in place. Save for a few policy changes in certain provinces, it looks like the police just have to show up ready for work like the lot of us.
What do you think about Canada’s police consumption policies? Should police officers be able to consume marijuana in a country with legalized cannabis? Why or why not?