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Mounties eyeing change to recreational cannabis use policy for members

OTTAWA — The RCMP is looking at easing a policy that requires front-line officers and many other employees to refrain from recreational cannabis use for four weeks before duty.

A change to the five-year-old policy could bolster recruitment of new officers by bringing the Mounties in line with police forces that have much less restrictive policies on pot use.

An internal RCMP briefing note, obtained by The Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act, recommends a 24-hour restriction on cannabis use before reporting to work, with some exceptions.

RCMP spokeswoman Robin Percival says the current policy is under review but no final decision has been made.

The policy took effect in 2018 when Canada legalized recreational cannabis.

It requires RCMP employees in safety-sensitive positions to refrain from non-medicinal cannabis use 28 days before reporting to work.

The policy covers a wide array of employees, from officers and reservists to telecommunication operators and firearm technicians.

The RCMP says it reviewed all aspects of its operations in developing the 2018 policy on substance use. It reasoned that members work across Canada in a unique environment, including as first responders, in rural and remote communities and can be called back for duty at any time.

“All RCMP employees must be fit for duty when reporting for work, which includes not being impaired by alcohol or drugs,” says a notice on the RCMP website explaining the policy. 

“Science shows that cannabis can intoxicate beyond initial consumption and that there are no established safe limits or data on how it affects performance. Without established scientific information about cannabis impairment, the RCMP policy is taking a careful approach at this time, to ensure workplace and public safety is maintained at all times.”

Taylor, 32, says he is keen to join the RCMP, but as a recreational cannabis user, he would like the force’s policy to change.

The Canadian Press agreed not to publish the British Columbia man’s full name because he fears openly voicing displeasure about the current policy could jeopardize his chances of becoming a Mountie.

Taylor said in an interview he enjoyed cannabis weekly as a recreational drug when personal use became legal. He then began taking it to help ease minor aches and pains, or simply to relieve stress.

The Mounties were the only police Taylor knew while growing up in B.C. 

“In my family, we were always raised to respect authority and police and that they’re your friend, and they’re there to help,” he said. 

“And from all the situations where I’ve had contact with them, they’ve been great to me, and that’s the uniform I’d like to wear and kind of give back to my community. They have strong Canadian traditions, but they’re just so behind in their policy. I think as the times change so must the policies.”

Taylor said he was encouraged to hear that the RCMP is reviewing its cannabis policy. 

“I can honestly say if they made this announcement tomorrow, that they’re changing their policy, I’d apply tomorrow.”

He intends to submit an application to the force in the new year and said he will abide by whatever policy is on the books should he become a Mountie. But, he added, if the RCMP adopts a more relaxed policy, “I’d be much happier.”

The spring 2023 briefing note, prepared for RCMP Commissioner Michael Duheme, says the risk of impairment from cannabis varies depending on the person, use patterns and product qualities.

It notes that RCMP statistics concerning Code of Conduct allegations for the last five years put known impairment occurrences below 0.15 per cent based on a total of 18,000 regular members.

“Policing organizations that initially had a zero tolerance or 28-day restriction have or are moving towards either a fit for duty or 24-hour abstinence requirement, or a combination of both.”

The note adds that earlier this year, the National Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file Mounties, advised that one of the most common inquiries at recruiting sessions “pertained to our policy on the recreational use of cannabis.”

The police federation had no comment when asked about the briefing note and the policy review.

The proposed 24-hour restriction on recreational cannabis use before work would apply to all safety-sensitive positions in the RCMP with the exception of what are known as specialized occupational groups.

These include pilots, air marshals, emergency response team members, and the protective details of the prime minister and the governor general.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 5, 2023.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press