Canadian airport security screeners have stopped calling the police every time they process a passenger traveling with medical marijuana.
The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) changed its policy this month after an exponential growth in the number of passengers with prescription pot in their carry-on luggage.
CATSA spokesperson Mathieu Larocque told CBC News that in the past six months, security screeners following policy had to call the police 2,900 times.
That compares with police being summoned only 128 times in the entire 2012-13 fiscal year.
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"Calling the police every time was cumbersome, it took time and some passengers rightfully felt it wasn't necessary to call the police when they were in possession of a legitimate certificate or documentation," Larocque told CBC News.
Under the previous policy, passengers complained about being made to feel like criminals while waiting for police at security and then submitting their drugs and prescription paperwork for inspection. Some reported having missed their flights.
Police encounters prompted complaints
Chris Noseworthy made several complaints over the years to CATSA as well as the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The man, from Hawkesbury, Ont., said he was prescribed marijuana more than four years ago to help alleviate chronic pain and anxiety.
"I've been surrounded by a dozen police officers, all at the ready," he said. "I've had nervous breakdowns. I've had anxiety attacks going through security. It's been a very unpleasant experience."
He said that while he was flying out of Vancouver in February, a CATSA employee followed policy and called the RCMP to review his prescription. Noseworthy said it was clear the Mountie was unfamiliar with the process, because the officer said he needed a special government-issued permit.
"I had an anxiety attack in security, in the middle of the security line, where, I mean, I completely broke down," he told CBC News early Thursday outside Montreal's Dorval airport, where he was scheduled to catch a flight to Calgary.
Noseworthy described his sense of relief to learn about the policy change, and he congratulated CATSA before heading inside for his first hassle-free flight in more than four years.
The policy change is also being welcomed by police across Canada. In Toronto, Pearson airport is policed by Peel Regional officers. Sgt. Joshua Colley said there's already been a big drop in calls from CATSA.
"With the new policy change and the decrease of calls for service from the police, it allows for our officers to increase proactive patrols and work on making the whole airport grounds a safer place for travel," Colley said.