A New Brunswick Mountie is questioning his employer’s decision not to allow him to smoke medically prescribed marijuana while in uniform.
Corporal Ronald Francis told the CBC that he received a prescription for medical-grade marijuana earlier this month to help treat his post-traumatic stress disorder. He is allowed three grams of marijuana a day, although he said that he does not usually use that much.
“It keeps me level, allows me to concentrate,” said Cpl. Francis, who has been doing administrative duties. “It works very well for me.”
Corporal Francis told the CBC that RCMP officers arrived at his home on Thursday evening and seized his uniform.
The unusually public dispute is an illustration of how quickly laws on marijuana use have changed in Canadian society.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Gilles Moreau said that Cpl. Francis should not smoke while wearing his uniform.
“Definitely a member that has been prescribed medical marijuana should not be in red serge taking his medication,” he told the CBC. “It would not be advisable for that member. It would not portray the right message to the general public. It definitely is not something we would support or condone.”
The RCMP said Assistant Commissioner Moreau was not available to comment on Thursday, and issued a statement in response.
“Any member on a mind-altering drug – such as marijuana, OxyContin, Dilaudid – is not permitted to perform operational duties, including carrying a firearm or operating a police vehicle, as this could pose a risk to themselves, a co-worker or the public,” the RCMP said.
“We are continuously working to strengthen the support we can offer employees affected by operational stress injuries. The commissioner has made it clear both publicly and to the employees of the RCMP that if you get sick or injured on the job, we will look after you – and we will do it fairly.”
According to Health Canada, people can apply for a medical marijuana license after their doctor declares that conventional treatment has been ineffective or inappropriate. The list of specified conditions on the Health Canada website includes multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, cancer and HIV/AIDS, although people with other conditions are also eligible. Individuals can apply for a license either through Health Canada, or by submitting a signed doctor’s form directly to a licensed producer.
Under human rights legislation, Canadian employers have a duty to accommodate employees with disabilities up to the point of undue hardship.
William Bogart, a law professor at the University of Windsor, said that in most cases, both parties usually agree on modifications. A possible compromise in this situation would be that Cpl. Francis would remove his uniform and smoke medical marijuana in a private place so as not to confuse the public, he said.
“I’m wondering why they can’t just sit down and work this out and I think in most situations they’d be able to,” said Prof. Bogart, who is writing a book on the shift from criminalization to regulation of recreational drugs.
“Lots of things go on in the workplace that if we just sort of zeroed in on them, we’d say, ‘What?’” he said. “But then you get to understand that the employee has a condition that needs some alteration of the typical pattern of work. The employer understands that and understands that it’s a human rights legislation requirement, but also that if you want a good work force, you have to have some flexibility and life goes on.”
Cpl. Francis, who has worked in First Nations communities, told the CBC that he has been living with PTSD since about 1993, at the outset of his career. “I had to shovel a childhood friend into a body bag. I showed up on the scene, and learned who he was.”
He said that other experiences throughout his policing career – being on the scene of horrific car accidents, having to arrest his own brother – have worsened his condition. “It’s a very hard life, policing your own. I had to shut my emotions off for such a long time.”
With a report from The Canadian Press