Skip to main content

Part of cannabis laws and regulations

The Canadian military has released a detailed directive on how, where and when soldiers can consume marijuana starting in mid-October.

Faced with the looming legalization of the drug in Canada next month, the Canadian Forces circulated a memo on Friday telling its 100,000 soldiers and reservists they can consume the drug in their off-hours – but not within eight hours before they come to work.

The directive, acquired by The Globe and Mail, says that soldiers who have dangerous duties, such as flying planes or operating submarines, will be told to keep the drug out of their systems for a month before any active duty.

These rules apply to within Canada only. Canadian Forces personnel will remain banned from consuming the drug outside the country or during any foreign deployments.

The military’s policy is important because it is among the first of any safety-sensitive industry in Canada to clearly spell out how it will deal with the government’s legalization of the drug, which is to occur on Oct. 17.

Police forces, railways, trucking firms and public transit operators in Canada are all struggling to deal with the potential for increased marijuana intoxication at their workplaces. The legalization does not give them new powers to test workers for impairment.

The military faces these same problems, but is also under pressure to assure Canada’s allies that its soldiers will not be any less battle-ready during shared missions abroad.

“This specifically prohibits Canadian Forces members from using marijuana outside of Canada,” Lieutenant-General Chuck Lamarre said in an interview.

He said countries such as the United States and Britain have been asking about the Canadian military’s plans for marijuana legalization and he is telling them nothing fundamental will change.

“Operational effectiveness, the ability of us to be able to put troops out in the world and in Canada to do the right mission, that is primordial. We’re not messing with that, and our allies are aware of that.”

Lt.-Gen. Lamarre, who oversees human-resources issues for the Canadian Forces, said analysts, doctors and lawyers spent months coming up with the new policy and he felt it was important to communicate it now, so everyone will understand how things will change in six weeks' time. The policies will be revisited on a yearly basis. Soldiers who violate rules could face anything from verbal warnings to a court martial, depending on the severity of the breach.

Different rules will apply to different jobs within the military, depending upon how inherently dangerous they are.

For example, although all soldiers will be prohibited from consuming cannabis for eight hours before showing up to work, those who engage in “handling of a loaded weapon, ammunition, explosive ordnance or explosive” will be told to stay away from the drug for at least 24 hours.

The rules will be far stricter for parachutists, submariners and just about anyone who flies or supervises the flying of any kind of plane or drone. These professions will be ordered to steer clear of marijuana consumption for 28 days before showing up to work.

According to the Canadian Forces' directive, these rules will be in place because the human body metabolizes marijuana differently than alcohol. The drug is “fat-soluble,” meaning its intoxicants can linger longer and be released more haphazardly.

And this calculation becomes even more complex depending on the specific ways in which people ingest marijuana. “People who have a moderate dose of inhaled cannabis, they feel it quickly and it’s going to be resolved from their body between three and six hours, on average,” Lt.-Gen Lamarre said. “But if they’re taking oils, it could be 12 hours and stuff can be stored in fatty tissue and released into the blood stream at some other time, up to 28 to 30 days."

Police agencies in Canada are also wrestling with the implications of heightened marijuana consumption within their ranks, but have not publicly spelled out what rules they will enforce.

“Each police agency will have their own HR policy. The [Vancouver Police Department] will be grouping the use of cannabis in with alcohol/prescription drugs,” Sergeant Jason Robillard, a spokesman for that police force, said in an e-mail.

Asked by The Globewhether the police force’s undercover officers, tactical officers and bomb defusers might face more strictures than ordinary officers, Sgt. Robillard said simply that “our members are required to appear for work fit for duty.”

“The RCMP is finalizing its policy surrounding the use of cannabis by its employees,” Staff Sergeant Tania Vaughan, a spokeswoman for the force, said. She added that the expectation will continue to be that “all RCMP officers must be fit for duty when reporting for work.”

Last year, a spokeswoman for the force did tell The Globe that serving Mounties who had been prescribed medical marijuana were being directed to stay off the streets.

“A member who is identified as using medical marijuana will be accommodated into a non-operational capacity in accordance with limitations and restrictions identified in the course of an occupational health assessment,” Corporal Annie Delisle said in a 2017 e-mail.

The military’s plans for marijuana legalization were telegraphed by Canada’s top soldier, Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance, when he made an appearance before a parliamentary committee last February.

“So although it may be available and part of a cultural norm, it’s not for a pilot who is about to fly,” Gen. Vance said at the time.

“In the end, dangerous duty is serious duty for the country, and we don’t want people doing it stoned," he said.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe