When Canada legalizes marijuana, which it plans to do very shortly, it will not be in a position to ban its military completely from using it recreationally. However, according to a senior commander in its forces, it definitely intends restricting cannabis use, and these limitations will be more wide-ranging than its current policy that governs the use of alcohol.
Currently, C-45, a draft policy, is just waiting for the Liberal government to pass it. C-45, which is the bill to legalize marijuana in Canada, left the Senate last week with a long list of amendments and is on its way back to the House of Commons. In a recent interview, Lieutenant-General Chuck Lamarre, who is chief of military personnel, said the new policy “allows us to respect the law.”
However, Lamarre pointed out that, “At the same time, I think Canadians are expecting our operational readiness, and our ability to do our business must never be compromised.” Not only will the new directive include everybody in uniform, but it will also provide guidance for the 30,000 civilians employed in National Defense, who both support military operations directly and indirectly.
As it stands now, alcohol use within the Canadian military is subject to a variety of restrictions, even complete bans, during most overseas operations. It seems that what Lamarre and his group are proposing now, after months of medical and legal investigation is essentially to extend that idea to include the unique nature of marijuana.
“There is no total ban at this point,” Lamarre explained. “We cannot do that. If the law says it is no longer criminal to have it in your possession, then it is not a criminal act. You just cannot ban it outright.” Despite this, there are those inside the military who are pushing for a complete ban for specific military occupations, most notably for pilots.
Lamarre was not willing to divulge any particulars, but he did acknowledge that the air force has “specific concerns” and that the new commander has the task of identifying where the new rules should be stricter. In addition to this, each of the four branch commanders, for the Special Forces, air force, navy and army, has the job of designating certain positions that will be subject to limitations.
Essentially, according to Lamarre, who also reiterated that senior leadership will “be very specific,” they are looking to say, “I need to restrict the following occupations for these periods of time, under these circumstances.” Blaise Cathcart, former judge advocate general for the military, has argued, both in public and behind closed doors, that banning weed in the military will be difficult once it is legal.
As justification for the stricter rules, Lamarre says it has its basis in “science,” pointing out that the compounds in marijuana remain detectable in the human body for “seven or eight days, and we are putting even more restrictions on that to make sure there is no chance somebody would be affected by it.” Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is just one of those compounds, the one that makes users “high.”
According to many scientific journals, THC, which is the primary psychoactive compound of marijuana, can linger in the bloodstream for as long as 72 hours, and it can also impair function in users for up to three hours. The Canadian military is no-nonsense when it comes to narcotics, having a zero-tolerance policy toward drug use among its members.
Additionally, the military also has a long-established policy for testing its members for drug use, especially for “safety-sensitive” occupations. In regards to the current testing policy used by the military, Lamarre says that he does not think that there will be many changes to it. The military will continue testing its armed forces the way it always has.
Cannabis – The Illegal Substance of Choice within the Military
Not long ago, as recently as just five years ago to be exact, senior commanders launched an intense internal lobbying campaign against National Defense, stating that they wanted to expand drastically the current list of occupations that are subject to drug screening. Ever since 2007, the department has been conducting random blind drug tests on thousands of its members throughout the country.
Those testing reports consistently show that, over the last several years, cannabis has been the illegal drug of choice for Canadians within the military, far more popular than harder drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, and others. An army analysis conducted in 2013, and released under access to information legislation to The Canadian Press, found young, non-commissioned personnel more prone to drug use.
Of 279 urine samples taken at military bases across the nation, only 6.6 percent tested positive for one substance, with that drug being cannabis in at least 5.3 percent of all samples collected. Lamarre does not believe that cannabis use will increase among members of the Armed Forces when it finally becomes legal.
The overwhelming majority of citizens who join the military, Lamarre explained, do so in order to participate in unique challenges, such as flying helicopters and planes, and anything that may keep them away from other jobs that most would prefer to have no part in, such as boring desk jobs, for example. Chuckling, Lamarre said, “I do not anticipate a whole whack of sparking up.” Time will tell.