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When recreational marijuana becomes legal next week, Vancouver cops will be fit for duty even if they smoked weed the day before.

But Toronto officers will have to wait 28 days. In Calgary, officers won’t ever be allowed to toke.

So why do policies on police pot use vary so widely?

“I probably don’t need to tell you, policing is inherently dangerous and officers find themselves in very contentious situations that don’t allow for a lot of discretionary time,” said Superintendent Darren Leggatt, who heads Calgary Police Service’s cannabis legalization project. “And right now, there have been no real long-term studies on the impact of cannabis use specifically related to policing.”

Forces across the country have been struggling with setting policies on officer pot use ahead of the Oct. 17 legalization. With less than a week to go before that date, several forces still haven’t settled on rules.

“We’ve had a working group that’s been looking at this issue for the better part of a year,” said Meaghan Gray, spokeswoman for Toronto Police Services, which announced its draft policy last week. “What the research has told us, so far, is that you can be affected by [cannabis] for up to 28 days after consuming.”

Concerns that pot could hurt an officer’s motor skills, cognitive abilities and decision-making led to that limit being imposed, Gray said.

The RCMP has also settled on 28 days. But Vancouver police are set to allow all staff, including officers, to use cannabis while off-duty – as long as they’re not impaired at work.

Vancouver’s policy doesn’t state a specific amount of time before a shift that an officer should stop consuming marijuana.

“It’s a policy that’s consistent with how we have always managed any kind of impairment,” said Tom Stamatakis, president of the Vancouver Police Union and the Canadian Police Association. “The expectation is that you show up fit for duty. I fully support it.”

Weeding out tokers?

Calgary’s ban applies to officers who carry guns and can be called on duty. Officers won’t be randomly tested for drugs at work – instead, supervisors will be trained to recognize the signs of marijuana impairment.

“Are we actually going to blood-test people?” Leggatt said. “No, we’re not going to do that.”

Under Toronto’s proposed rules, an officer could be tested for drugs if impairment is suspected – or if the officer has been in an incident.

Calgary’s police union expects the rule to get thrown out by the courts.

“It’s going to get worked out in the end,” said Les Kaminski, president of the Calgary Police Association.”But I’d hate to be that crash-test dummy who will be on leave for two years while it’s hammered out in the courts.”

A blanket zero-tolerance policy might be allowed if an employer could prove that a ban is needed to do a job safely.

“It’s a real conundrum because [marijuana] is a legal substance,” said Soma Ray-Ellis, partner and chair of the employment and labour group at Gardiner Roberts LLP. “The employer would have to show how any cannabis use, ever, would negatively impact the position.”

Research still hazy?

Leggatt did not cite the specific studies that pointed to a need for a total ban. Kaminski said there are studies that “say a lot of different things.”

“Some studies say you’re fit eight hours later, some say 72 hours later,” Kaminski said. “I think what’s eventually going to happen is that [Calgary police] is going to say: if you have 72 hours of non-use, you’ll be fit for duty.”

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) recommends waiting six hours before driving or operating machinery after cannabis use.

“There were a couple of studies on flight-simulator performance that suggested you could see impairment 24 hours later, but I haven’t seen other studies of that nature,” said Dr. Robert Mann, a social and epidemiological research scientist at CAMH.

There is evidence that heavy cannabis users could stay impaired for longer because, like alcohol, the drug builds up in their systems, Mann said. But for someone who smokes occasionally, it’s not entirely clear how long impairment will last.

Both Calgary and Toronto say the policies could change as research improves.

The Canadian Forces will allow members stationed in Canada to use marijuana up to eight hours before starting duty, as long as they’re not handling live ammunition or flying an aircraft.

“If you ban it for all police, then are we going to ban it for firefighters, all emergency workers, all military workers?” said Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association. “Are you going to say politicians and government employees should be banned because they’re making important decisions?”

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