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Cannabis RCMP adopts strict policy against cannabis use by its officers

Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau.

The Canadian Press

The RCMP will make it almost impossible for gun-carrying officers to consume cannabis, federal sources said.

The workplace policy, which will call on Mounties to refrain from consuming cannabis for 28 straight days before a shift, is scheduled to be unveiled this week. The position will place the national police force among the most restrictive in Canada, as various organizations are getting ready for the legalization of cannabis for recreational use by adults on Oct. 17.

The RCMP’s position highlights major differences among federal organizations on the use of cannabis by their employees, as the Canadian Armed Forces have announced that most members will be allowed to consume eight hours before a shift.

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There are also divergent policies among police organizations across the country, with the Calgary Police Service adopting a complete “abstinence” policy in terms of cannabis use by its officers.

On the other hand, a number of other police services in places such as Ottawa and Vancouver will only require officers to be “fit for duty” when they show up to work. The policy in those organizations will be similar to the one regarding alcohol use, which is allowed outside of working hours as long as officers are sober when they arrive at work.

“We’ve opted not to include hours of use [for cannabis]. The term ‘fit-for-duty’ has been defined and that is what most police services in Ontario will be following,” the chief of the Ottawa Police Service, Charles Bordeleau, recently told reporters.

The organizations that are adopting strict rules for cannabis use have pointed to scientific evidence showing that the human body metabolizes the substance differently than alcohol. The drug is fat-soluble, meaning its intoxicants can linger longer and be released more haphazardly than what happens with alcohol. The situation can become more complex depending on the specific ways in which people ingest marijuana, which can leave traces in one’s blood for weeks after usage.

Sources inside and outside the RCMP, who were not authorized to speak publicly ahead of the announcement, said the RCMP wants to ensure that the population will never have any doubts about the impairment level of on-duty police officers. In addition, the new policy is designed to ensure that RCMP officers will not be challenged in court on the basis that their actions were linked to cannabis consumption, the sources said.

The sources added the RCMP will be open to reviewing its policy on cannabis once more research is conducted on the matter.

There is a strong possibility that RCMP officers will become unionized in coming months and they could object to the stringent rules on cannabis use.

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“There are divergent policies and that really makes it difficult for any organization to take a hard-line when others are not,” former RCMP superintendent Garry Clement said. “Once the RCMP becomes unionized, there will be a lot of arguments against that policy.”

The Canadian Armed Forces have adapted their approach to cannabis based on each member’s duties. All service personnel will be prohibited from consuming cannabis for eight hours before showing up to work, while 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. In addition, military personnel will not be allowed to consume the drug outside the country or during any foreign deployments.

The country’s biggest airlines, train and trucking firms, construction companies and transit authorities have urged the federal government to allow them to conduct drug tests for their employees in sensitive positions. However, the measure was not included in the two bills that legalized cannabis and modernized Canada’s impaired-driving laws.

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