Canada’s Military Can’t Stop Legal Marijuana, but Can Contain Its Use

As the reality of legalized cannabis permeates through Canada, a growing number of Canadian institutions are facing decisions regarding their tolerance of cannabis. Notably, the Canadian Armed Forces has determined that it will restrict the use of marijuana but it cannot legally ban use of the substance.

In an exclusive interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Lt. Gen. Chuck Lamarre, who is the chief of military personnel, said Canadian soldiers will respect whatever law is on the books. Lamarre added, “But at the same time, I think Canadians are expecting our operational readiness and our ability to do our business must never be compromised.”

The rules of governance on the issue will not only reflect those in uniform, but will also apply to the roughly 30,000 civilian employees that support Canada’s military.

As a guideline for appropriate access, Lamarre pointed out that alcohol is subjected to various restrictions. The army’s cannabis policy will expand on alcohol rules to reflect the nature of marijuana usage.

When asked about an outright ban, Lamarre explained that because the law states cannabis use is not a criminal act, the military can’t issue an outright ban on the possession or use of marijuana.

Specific factions of Canada’s Armed Forces will be subject to different rules based upon their military roles. For example, the Air Force has expressed concerns regarding cannabis use and pilots, so the branch has been tasked with toughening regulations that will be in place once legalization commences sometime in the latter half of 2018. The Army, Navy, and Special Forces have also been told to designate which jobs will be restricted from cannabis use.

Evidence suggests that marijuana use is already prevalent among Canadian military personnel.

Since 2006, the Canadian military has been conducting drug tests on thousands of its members across the country. Marijuana proved to be, by far, the most popular illegal substance. According to a CBC News report, out of 279 urine samples taken in a 2013 analysis of the army, 6.6 percent tested positive for at least one drug. For 5.3 percent of those individuals, the drug was marijuana.

Despite those figures, Lamarre said he does not believe cannabis use will spike in the military when prohibition ends, as most people who join the Armed Forces do so to engage in challenging activities such as flying planes and other pursuits that require full concentration. “I don’t anticipate a whole whack of sparking up,” he said.

Canada is currently scheduled to legalize recreational marijuana by fall 2018.

Jon Hiltz was a journalist for for two years and is now director of content for INDIVA, a licensed cannabis producer in Ontario, Canada.

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