Legalization of Cannabis Presents Conundrum for Canadian Military

Feb 1, 2018

Questions are arising in the Canadian army, navy, air force, and special forces as the July 2018 legalization of cannabis looms.

Since the Spring of 2017, military experts have been assessing their drug and alcohol policies in advance of the legislation that will see legal medical and recreational use of cannabis come into effect across the country.

“We’re concerned about how folks will be able to do their job,” Lt.-Gen. Chuck Lamarre has said, “And we are concerned about folks who have the challenges of operating heavy equipment, weaponry, who are on call on a regular basis to go and do things, like our [search and rescue] technicians.”

At this point, and relying on scientific rationale, Lamarre is prepared to “recommend or propose control measures” for the drug. The military has already limited impairment substances in some instances, including the consumption of alcohol by personnel stationed in Afghanistan.

Just like in private companies across Canada, the Canadian military has also designated certain roles and work within the armed forces as “safety-sensitive,” and has experienced lobbying by senior commanders to expand drug and alcohol testing, particularly in these sectors. But Lamarre has stated that due to legal rights considerations, the military will need to be careful in how it applies random drug testing procedures.

Because of its management of potentially violent and destructive machinery, the Canadian Armed Forces occupies a unique position within the framework of drug and alcohol policy, but Lamarre has still requested that health research help form any testing restrictions, and is specifically interested in determining “the impact of marijuana … on the developing brain,” since the hiring range for the Canadian military is between 18-25 years of age.

Additionally, Lamarre is looking into what legally defines cannabis impairment, a hotly contested subject as there is no current and government-approved technology that shows definitive roadside testing results for marijuana.

“How do you deal with that?” Lamarre asks. “Is there a testing technology that is coming around the corner?”

Lamarre also faces the impact of potential cannabis sales in military mess halls, which are currently licensed to sell alcohol.