The same substance that was once demonized as a “dangerous drug” is now being accepted in a police department where officials have decided to treat cannabis like alcohol, and they are now allowing their officers to use the plant—as long as they are off-duty.
As the city of Vancouver, Canada prepares to legalize cannabis for recreational use in the coming weeks, the Vancouver Police Board has announced that its officers will be free to use cannabis, as long they arrive to work “fit for duty.”
The police board effectively rejected the suggestion that officers should have to undergo “a 24-hour pre-shift period of abstinence” from cannabis before every shift, according to a report from the Toronto Star, because they acknowledge that “cannabis affects different individuals to varying degrees, and there is no medical consensus on how long cannabinoids like THC—the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis—take to clear the system.”
“Specifying a time frame can create an implicit approval that this period of abstinence is all that’s required to ensure fitness for duty. This can lead to unnecessary labor conflicts where employees are fit for duty but have consumed cannabis within this time frame, or where employees are not fit for duty but mistakenly believe they are as they consumed outside this time frame.”
The report from the Vancouver Police Department noted that officers are now expected to treat cannabis in the same way that they would treat alcohol or prescription drugs, which is by not using or consuming it “prior to the start of their shift,” which would affect their performance.
The Toronto Star also noted that Vancouver Police officers “will be allowed to possess controlled drugs while working or on break, so long as the substance is stored for the purposes of transportation in its original, sealed and unopened package.”
Vancouver Police spokesman Const. Jason Doucette told the Vancouver Sun that the department plans to stay up to date on the latest cannabis research, in order to help its officers make an “informed decision.”
“Training around the VPD’s impairment at the workplace policy will contain information on the latest research on the use of cannabis,” Doucette said. “We want to provide our officers with the latest information so they can make an informed decision when it comes to cannabis use and being fit for duty.”
This decision is starting with local police in Vancouver, but the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), or Canada’s federal police force, has yet to announce its stance on cannabis use by its members. Sgt. Marie Damian told the Sun that the goal will always be to “maintain public safety and a safe workplace.”
“Once finalized, the policy will provide direction to employees and their supervisors surrounding work standards on the non-medicinal use of cannabis,” Damian said. “All RCMP officers must be fit for duty when reporting for work, which includes not being impaired by alcohol or any other type of drug.”
The impact that this decision will have in Vancouver could set a precedent for the rest of the nation, and it could inspire local police departments in the United States to do the same. However, because cannabis is still considered a “Schedule I drug” under U.S. federal law, it creates hurdles for departments who want to acknowledge the overwhelming list of benefits from the plant.
In fact, regular cannabis use could be helpful to police officers, as it has been shown to help with anxiety and depression, which could help the officers in their everyday lives and could influence the way they interact with the public. Research has also shown that 80 percent of cannabis users prefer cannabis over prescription pills for a number of treatments, which could also help officers because it would keep them from having to deal with the long list of dangerous side effects associated with popular pharmaceutical drugs.
Unfortunately, even with support and legalization increasing across the United States, cannabis-related arrests are also on the rise, and recent statistics show that someone is arrested for cannabis in the U.S. every 48 seconds.