Forces take dif­fer­ent tacks to of­fi­cers who want to toke

The Globe and Mail Metro (Ontario Edition) - - CAREERS - JA­SON TCHIR

Some po­lice ser­vices still haven’t set­tled on rules, while Van­cou­ver, Toronto and Cal­gary have dis­sim­i­lar poli­cies

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 of­fi­cers’ 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 Ser­vice, 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, Ms. Gray said.

The RCMP have 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 be- fore 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.”


Cal­gary’s ban ap­plies to of­fi­cers who carry guns and can be called onto 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?” Supt. 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 theend,” said LesKamin­ski, 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.”

Ablan­ket­zero-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 L LP .“The em­ployer would have to show how any cannabis use, ever, would neg­a­tively im­pact the po­si­tion.”


Supt. Leg­gatt did not cite the spe­cific stud­ies that pointed to a need for a to­tal ban. Mr. 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,” Mr. Kamin­ski said. “I think what’s even­tu­ally go­ing to hap­pen is that [Cal­gary’s force] 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, Dr. Mann said. But for some­one who smokes oc­ca­sion­ally, it’s not en­tirely clear how long im­pair­ment will last. 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?”


Po­lice in Cal­gary will not be able to use mar­i­juana at all once the drug is le­gal­ized. In Toronto, of­fi­cers will not be con­sid­ered fit for duty within 28 days of con­sump­tion, but no such re­stric­tions will ap­ply to off-duty of­fi­cers in Van­cou­ver as long as they aren’t im­paired at work.

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