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High Duty: Cannabis Use Policies Among Canada’s Police Forces

Police officer in uniform taking a moment to smoke against an urban backdrop.


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Can Cops Smoke Weed in Canada?

Legalization of Cannabis in Canada

Recreational marijuana was legalized in Canada on October 17, 2018, under the Cannabis Act. This made Canada the second country in the world, after Uruguay, to legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational use at the national level. However, the act left a lot of the decision-making up to individual provinces and territories, especially in regards to the distribution, sale, and use of cannabis.

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Can Cops Smoke Weed in Canada?

The simple answer is: it depends on the police force. Different police forces across Canada have set different policies:

Police Force

Cannabis Use Policy

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)

Refrain from consuming cannabis for 28 days before any shift.

Toronto Police Service

Not permitted to consume marijuana within 28 days of reporting for duty.

Calgary Police Service

Completely banned from consuming cannabis, even when off-duty.

Vancouver Police Department

Not banned from using cannabis but must report to work “fit for duty”.

Ottawa Police Service

Expected to be fit for duty when reporting to work; no specific timeframe or policy provided related to cannabis consumption.

Edmonton Police Service

Required to abstain from cannabis use for 24 hours before a scheduled shift.

Montreal Police Service (SPVM)

Must report to work fit for duty; no specific timeframe was indicated.

Winnipeg Police Service

Must report to work fit for duty. Specific policies regarding timeframes or consumption were not available at the time of my last update.

Halifax Regional Police

Must report to work fit for duty. Specific guidelines or timeframes around cannabis consumption were not explicitly stated.

Quebec Provincial Police (Sûreté du Québec)

Specific policy was not available at the time of my last update. Consult official resources or recent publications.

Hamilton Police Service

Did not provide a specific timeframe but emphasized officers should be fit for duty.

Two RCMP officers in their iconic red serge uniforms, posing with pride against a scenic Canadian backdrop.
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Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)

Background:

The RCMP, Canada’s federal and national law enforcement agency, established a cannabis use policy in 2018 in the wake of Canada legalizing recreational cannabis.

Current Policy (as of 2018):

Officers and many of their employees are required to abstain from consuming recreational cannabis for 28 days before reporting to duty.

Under Review (as of 2023):

The RCMP is currently reconsidering its cannabis policy. This potential change is motivated by a desire to align the Mounties with other police forces having less stringent regulations on cannabis use. This change could also assist in improving recruitment drives.

Proposed Change:

An internal RCMP document, sourced from the Access to Information Act, suggests reducing the abstinence period to a 24-hour restriction on cannabis use before reporting for duty. However, this change would come with certain exceptions, ensuring safety in specialized roles.

Rationale:

The 28-day abstention policy was initially established due to the unique nature of RCMP duties. Members can be called back for duty at any time, and they operate in diverse environments, including rural, remote communities, and as first responders. With the absence of clear scientific data about the extent and duration of cannabis impairment, a conservative approach was chosen. However, given the societal shift and broader acceptance of cannabis, along with evolving policies in other police organizations, the RCMP is now reviewing its stance.

Public Sentiment:

Potential recruits and the public have expressed interest in a more relaxed cannabis policy. A hopeful recruit, identified as “Taylor,” has stated that he would apply immediately if the RCMP announces a policy change.

What’s Next:

The RCMP’s final decision on this matter is pending. There is no official confirmation yet on whether the policy will be changed. However, the current discussion suggests a positive shift towards a more flexible approach, balancing both officer well-being and public safety.

Source

RCMP Policy

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Criticisms and Debates

The integration of legalized cannabis within the policies of police departments has ignited a series of criticisms and debates. The heterogeneous nature of the policies across different police forces in Canada highlights the complex challenges that come with regulating a substance that was once illegal and is now embraced by a considerable portion of the population. Here are some of the critical debates that emerge from this scenario:

  1. The Alcohol-Cannabis Paradox:

  • Argument: Critics argue that there’s a double standard in how police forces treat cannabis in comparison to alcohol. Both substances have the potential to impair judgment and motor functions, but alcohol consumption by off-duty officers has long been accepted, while cannabis faces more stringent restrictions.
  • Counterpoint: Advocates for the distinction argue that alcohol’s effects are better understood, given its long-standing legal status and extensive research. They believe the body metabolizes and eliminates alcohol faster, whereas THC, the primary psychoactive component of cannabis, can linger and potentially impair judgment for longer periods.
  1. The Ambiguity of “Fit for Duty”:

  • Argument: The “fit for duty” standard, embraced by many police forces, is criticized for its vagueness. Without concrete guidelines, it becomes a subjective measure, potentially leading to inconsistencies in its application.
  • Counterpoint: Proponents argue that the fluidity of the term allows for adaptability, catering to the evolving research on cannabis. With a lack of concrete evidence defining exact impairment windows for every individual, a degree of professional discretion might be necessary.
  1. Balancing Personal Rights with Public Safety:

  • Argument: Legalization implies that adults should be trusted to use cannabis responsibly. Officers, when off-duty, are citizens too and should be granted the same rights to partake in legal activities without undue restrictions.
  • Counterpoint: The nature of law enforcement jobs demands higher standards. Given the unique responsibilities police officers hold, their actions, even when off-duty, can have significant repercussions on public trust and safety.
  1. The Need for Evidence-Based Policies:

  • Argument: Critics believe that some of the stringent policies, like the 28-day abstention rule, appear arbitrary and lack a solid scientific basis. With the increasing volume of research on cannabis, they urge for policies to be continually revised to reflect evidence-based findings.
  • Counterpoint: While there is growing research, comprehensive, long-term studies on cannabis’s effects are still in their infancy. Caution might be warranted until conclusive evidence emerges.

Police officer in uniform taking a moment to smoke against an urban backdrop. Can cops smoke weed in Canada?
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Final Thoughts: The Evolution of Cannabis Policies in Law Enforcement

In the wake of the 21st century’s wave of cannabis legalization, police departments around the world have been grappling with how to best integrate these legal changes into their operational policies. Canada, being one of the front-runners in cannabis legalization, has showcased a spectrum of responses through its various provincial police forces. Yet, as we stand at this crossroad, a few key observations become evident.

  1. Evolving Research and Understanding: The effects of cannabis have been historically understood within a limited scope due to past legal restrictions on research. As cannabis has become legal in many jurisdictions, there’s been a surge in scientific studies aiming to unravel its mysteries. With a deeper understanding of its effects, especially concerning impairment duration and intensity, we can anticipate more refined and informed policies in the future.
  2. Societal Shifts: The legalization of cannabis isn’t merely a legal or economic transformation but represents a broader societal shift. As perceptions around cannabis use change and the stigma diminishes, institutional policies, including those of the police departments, will invariably be influenced. The vocal feedback from potential recruits, as seen with the RCMP, is just a glimpse into the broader dialogue ongoing within society.
  3. International Perspectives: Canada isn’t the only country navigating these waters. Looking at countries like Uruguay, South Africa, and parts of the United States, where cannabis is legal, can provide valuable insights. Each country, with its unique cultural and operational nuances, provides a different model of integration. By understanding these various approaches, Canadian forces can potentially learn, adapt, and innovate.
  4. The Importance of Staying Updated: A recurring theme in this exploration is the fluidity of policies. As of my last update in 2021, there have been several changes, and it’s imperative for stakeholders, whether they’re potential recruits, officers, or just the general public, to stay updated. Regular checks on official policy statements or announcements from police forces will ensure everyone is on the same page.

In closing, the journey of cannabis policy evolution within Canadian police departments mirrors the broader global trend of reconciling historical views with current realities. It’s a delicate balance of ensuring public safety while acknowledging changing societal norms. This dynamic interplay will undoubtedly continue to shape discussions and decisions in the coming years.

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