RCMP Mountie told: no smoking Rx pot in uniform

Puppet of a Canadian Mountie, Niagara Falls (Ontario), Canada. credit: Oskarp at wikivoyage shared

Should  this symbol of law and order be seen smoking pot? Puppet of a Canadian Mountie, Niagara Falls (Ontario), Canada. credit: Oskarp at wikivoyage shared

The status of marijuana is undergoing transition in many places. So here’s a fuzzy case out of Canada about an RCMP officer with a medical marijuana prescription to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to this report out of New Brunswick from the CBC, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Corporal Ronald Francis suffers from job-related PTSD. His doctor recently prescribed Francis up to 3 grams of medical-grade marijuana per day.

Francis estimates that might be consumed as 9-15 joints. (Wow!) Francis told reporters he typically smokes a joint in the morning, at noon and at night. (His prescription began in early November and he’s still working out the optimal dosage.)

This may have all gone unnoticed until Francis was photographed smoking in uniform. That raised more than a few eyebrows. Public reaction has been a mix of dismay and support.

RCMP higher-ups are not prohibiting their employees from taking medical marijuana. But that organization also says none of their people should be smoking dope (medical or otherwise) while in uniform. Francis argues there is no rule against taking legal prescription medicine while on duty and says he plans to continue doing so.

In the support column, the Canadian Press reports:

Adam Greenblatt, president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, said the RCMP should ultimately allow Cpl. Ron Francis to smoke in uniform providing he is not impaired while working.

“If this officer was a diabetic, would they prevent him from using insulin on the job?” Greenblatt said from Montreal. “That’s the way I see it.”

While medical marijuana may be legal in Canada, grey areas do crop up. As reported by the National Post:

According to the RCMP, “any member on a mind-altering drug — such as marijuana, OxyContin (and) Dilaudid — is not permitted to perform operational duties, including carrying a firearm or operating a police vehicle, as this could pose a risk to themselves, a co-worker or the public.

“We are continuously working to strengthen the support we can offer employees affected by operational stress injuries. The commissioner has made it clear both publicly and to the employees of the RCMP that if you get sick or injured on the job, we will look after you — and we will do it fairly.”

According to media reports Francis is currently on desk duty, not behind the wheel or carrying a firearm. Francis contends the amount of medical marijuana he is taking is insufficient to cause impairment.

Both sides have decent points. Seeing a Mountie light up, inhale and hold for effect – while in uniform – does deviate from the war on drugs script. Particularly under a “law and order” government which has been critical of using marijuana. For his part, Francis says medical marijuana seems to successfully moderate his PTSD, and feels healthier than drinking – the more common stress-reliever of choice for many in law enforcement, presumably off-duty and out of uniform.

This story made the Canadian news cycle on Thursday. By day’s end the CBC reported Mounties came to Francis’ home and confiscated most of his regular uniform (the bright red uniform was at his girlfriend’s). As ordered, Francis turned in the red serge uniform on Friday (Here is a National Post article on that, plus an interview with Francis on some of the issues in question.)

Besides the image issue I imagine Francis’ higher-ups are not pleased to have this airing like a soap opera in the open press. Francis told CTV Atlantic his speaking out may mean trouble, but added: “If they plan to fire me, I will sue them, there’s no doubt about that.”

Most organizations see value in upholding their image and avoiding mixed-messages. Something U.S. readers may not know is how troubled the RCMP’s image has become. That topic is too large and lengthy for this post, but the RCMP is beset with woes, with a high degree of job-related stress.

Plenty of room for jokes here, but the situation raises genuine issues too. How can marijuana be both an evil drug and useful medicine? If it’s not evil and has medicinal benefits, should general use be legalized? When medical marijuana is legitimate, legal medicine, should it be treated any differently than, say, a prescription for an anti-depressant?

What’s the best way to help law enforcement personnel deal with job stress? Even if they never pull a gun, run-of-the-mill requirements can include clearing up fatal car accidents, intervening in domestic disputes, dealing with the homeless, the mentally ill, abused children or managing drunks out on a bender. If the job damages jobholders what forms of relief can be offered? Don’t higher rates of alcoholism and suicide suggest a problem in need of better solutions?

It’s all great fodder for late-night comedians – Toronto mayor smokes crack, RCMP Mountie does doobies on the job! Even though there’s little comparison between the two individuals, or their motivation.

It may sound like a joke, but the underlying problem is not very funny.

For anyone who’s interested, here’s more about medical marijuana in Canada from the National Post, including a major policy shift toward commercializing that market.

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6 Comments on “RCMP Mountie told: no smoking Rx pot in uniform”

  1. mervel says:

    Pot makes you high and has some medical functions . If a cancer patient needs to take morphine, you still would not have that person performing police work while taking morphine.

    I think this is nuts, you can’t have high cops or drunk cops or cops on OXY or whatever. Just because something is legal does not mean it is suitable for work situations.

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  2. mervel says:

    If he has PTSD so bad that he has to smoke 10 joints per day, he should be out on disability until he has it under control. The last thing you want is a guy like this armed and enforcing the law.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. Lucy Martin says:

    I’m not an expert on medical marijuana’s recreational potency. I keep running across different accounts of its THC levels – some sources says it’s less potent, others saying no, it’s even stronger than street dope. (I think THC levels are pretty variable in the first place, so this is a moving target.) It’s hard to get impartial information since everyone seems to have an ax to grind. No doubt others can speak to this with more authority than my superficial impressions.

    But, to Mervel’s comment, Francis is smoking maybe 2-3 joints a day and says that doesn’t make him high any more than one beer makes most adults drunk. (He’s not trying to get a buzz on, he’s trying to be calm.) And he’s on desk duty, not behind the wheel or carrying a gun. Does that change anything? (Many legal conventional drugs make you drowsy or worse too.)

    Without taking sides it seems to me policy has not kept up with the arrival of marijuana as legal medicine.

    Or, put another way, it’s as if the assumption was medical marijuana would mostly be used by really sick people to restore appetite during chemotherapy or curb pain while dying. Sort of an invalid’s drug. Not something regular folks would use as part of ordinary lives, including functioning at work.

    These types of issues are likely to arise with increasing frequency, so sensible policies should be developed.

    Which (once again) brings up the question of who is doing research or making policy in this area that is factual and not governed by pre-exisiting bias – be that politics, or financial motivation?

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  4. mervel says:

    I think those are great points. Our regulatory structure seems far behind on this issue.

    “Or, put another way, it’s as if the assumption was medical marijuana would mostly be used by really sick people to restore appetite during chemotherapy or curb pain while dying. Sort of an invalid’s drug. Not something regular folks would use as part of ordinary lives, including functioning at work. – See more at: http://blogs.northcountrypublicradio.org/inbox/2013/11/30/rcmp-mountie-told-no-smoking-rx-pot-in-uniform/#comments

    I think this is a very valid point and really interesting as this is exactly what most people thought would happen with the opening up of prescription pain narcotics. But we see this mixture now of using these drugs on an ongoing basis.

    Certainly Pot is much less dangerous than a narcotic of any sort, however I think some of the issues are there. On this specific issue, it does make a difference to me at least that this police officer is not on patrol dealing with the public in very stressful situations. I don’t wish any of these guys ill will or believe that they are just seeking a high; however for pot to work it is my understanding that at some level you are indeed high, if not it would not be working to give you an altered state.

    Because of the politics and axes to grind as you point out; there has not been the needed research done on marijuana use. Particularly the long term impacts of chronic use or the impacts of use at different stages of development.

    Anyway these are issues that are going to have to be figured out.

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  5. mervel says:

    The politics of this weed are so strange!

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  6. Two Cents says:

    I would like to see him transferred to a nice, quiet, totally unstressed border crossing post.
    you know, for his health….

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