Can Ontario cops smoke pot? Police association unhappy with policy talks

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The president of the Police Association of Ontario isn't happy officers across the province are being left in the dark about whether or not they'll be able to use recreational cannabis off duty when it becomes legal.

Bruce Chapman, president of the Police Association of Ontario, says so far there's been little collaboration with police associations to develop policies for their members.

"Here we are two weeks from the legalization of recreational marijuana … there's been limited consultation with associations that represent the members, so it's concerning from the aspect of police associations," said Chapman.

Pot use policies for officers are being developed by police services across the country, with Calgary declaring an abstinence-only policy for their officers. The RCMP have said when a policy is in place, it will be focused on public safety and safe work places.

In Ontario, the Ottawa Police Service has revealed its officers will be allowed to use recreational marijuana off-duty, but they must follow fit-for-duty guidelines.

OACP sent out guidelines this week

The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police sent out guidance to services across the province this week on policies.

The chair of the OACP's human resources committee, Steve Bell, said they put together a group of HR professionals and policing professionals to come up with the list.

"We gave an overall position that we thought this should be approached from a fitness for duty perspective," said Bell, who is also the deputy chief of the Ottawa Police Service.

Bell said services can make decisions independently, but the OACP said it should be "up to front-line supervisors as well as health, safety and lifestyle practitioners in organizations to make sure that officers report to them any challenges they have reporting for duty and fitness for duty and make sure that they're monitoring and watching."

With legalization less than two weeks away, he said police services across the country should now have the tools to develop their polices, and the OACP has recommended they do so in consultation with police associations.

In the meantime, officers will have to wait.

"The frustration will come when they're trying to enforce a policy no one knows all the answers to, and the consequences of their actions and what they're allowed to do, and how they differ from service to service and neighbouring jurisdictions could have completely different policies put in place," Chapman said, pointing to Calgary and Vancouver's very different policies.

In Vancouver, officers can self-evaluate whether they are fit for duty.

Chapman thinks Calgary's outright ban policy will face a legal challenge.

Association doesn't support ban

He said his association does not support an outright ban on officers using marijuana when off-duty.

"It's not a personal support, it's a constitutional support for the laws of the land," he said. "I worked in my career in the drug squad where we used to arrest people for using cannabis, but if the federal laws are changing and it's legal to do so – in October you can't stop an officer or a civilian from doing it in their own time, similar to alcohol."

Chapman says he wants to see police services sitting down with officers' associations and coming up with solutions that work.

In his conversations with officers, he says he's seeing a large variance in attitudes.

"There are some benefits to it – it helps anxiety in certain conditions. I'm not saying I'm opposed to it, I'm not saying I support it. The membership at large has varying degrees of support for it, from, 'No, it doesn't matter, I'll never use it,' to 'I may use it. I used it 25 years ago and I may do it again now that it's legal,'" he said.

He says fitness for duty is a major consideration, similar to the alcohol policy many police services have in place now.

Ottawa settled, Toronto not

Chapman says major police associations across the country are currently holding meetings to discuss legalization for their members.

Toronto Police Service has not released their policy yet. As of last week, the force said it was still considering all options for the policy.

Both Waterloo Regional Police Service and the Guelph Police Service are still developing their policies.

Windsor Police Service has not yet released a policy. Officials there said, "The matter is still being studied and reviewed."

Officials with the Ontario Provincial Police say the matter is under review.