October 17 2018 is a big day. Then, Canada will legalise dope-smoking for recreational and not just medical purposes. Uruguay is the one country that has done this to date, back in December 2013. Just over a month before legalisation, the Canadian military has received instructions as to when cannabis usage will be permissible.

If someone's using a machine gun, you won't want them to be stoned. Photo: 7th Army Training Command's photostream

If someone’s using a machine gun, you won’t want them to be stoned. Photo: 7th Army Training Command’s photostream

There are more than 100,000 people in uniform and around 25,000 civilians employed by the Department of National Defence. Police forces, commercial airlines and other organisations have also had to consider the issue.

What the rules will be

Personnel who conduct high-altitude parachute drops, engage in air traffic control, operate lasers, serve on helicopters, planes and submarines or pilot drones are subject to limits for 28 days prior to deployment. This is because, per the defence ministry, traces of cannabis linger in the human body for up to 28 days after consumption. The restriction is that ingestion of dope for up to eight hours before work is a no-no. If personnel drive military vehicles, handle weapons or explosives or deliver emergency services, the prohibition is for 24 hours. It will be impermissible to carry cannabis while on international operations or aircraft or ships. Civilians – contractors or government employees – are also covered. There will be a yearly review of the policy.

What happens

Anyone affected by cannabis faces suspension from duty. There can be a demand for a blood, saliva or urine sample if an accident occurs where someone involved is thought to have taken cannabis.

The brass is “unreasonable” when it comes to cannabis

Rory Fowler was formerly a lieutenant colonel and is now a private military lawyer. He cautioned that the response of the chain of command to cannabis has traditionally been “unreasonable”. So they might employ administrative measures. These “don’t undergo the same legal scrutiny” as disciplinary ones.

What to watch out for

The website of the Canadian military lists the signs of cannabis usage to watch out for. These include anxiety, glassy or red eyes, inattention, lethargy, poor coordination, slow reactions, the smell of cannabis, unsteady gait and unusual talkativeness. Anybody who notices someone exhibiting these signs must report it.

Cannabis: the most popular drug in the Canadian military

Random drug testing of the Canadian military has shown cannabis to be much more popular than hard drugs, like cocaine. In a 2013 analysis saw 279 urine samples collected at Canadian army bases. 6.6 percent tested positive for drugs. In 5.3 percent of cases, the drug was cannabis.

“I don’t anticipate a whole whack of sparking up.

These limits are stricter than those for alcohol (no drinkies up to six hours before duty). But the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was overdoing things somewhat when it spoke of “severely curtail[ing] use of recreational marijuana.” The Canadian military’s head of personnel, Lt.-Gen. Chuck Lamarre, remarked that restrictions will be no harder to enforce than those governing alcohol usage. He admitted, “You just can’t ban it outright.” He didn’t foresee a surge in cannabis usage when it becomes legal. This is because most people who join the military do it for the challenge of flying planes or helicopters or suchlike. There is disdain for all that might impair performance. He laughed as he declared, “I don’t anticipate a whole whack of sparking up.”

The Canadian Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance, commented that the military was “trying to be smart.” He didn’t “anticipate this being a significant problem for us.” You wouldn’t want people to handle weapons while under the influence of cannabis. Gen. Vance described this as “dangerous” and “serious” duty, and, as he added, “We don’t want people doing it stoned.”

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