Military chief pledges pot use restrictions: 'We don't want people doing it stoned'

There are further signs members of the military will face restrictions on the use of recreational marijuana, once it becomes legal. The country's top military commander told a Senate committee he's preparing policy recommendations that include "a standard of abstinence."

Defence chief tells senators legalized pot will not be 'a significant problem for us.'

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance at the CDA Conference on Security and Defence in Ottawa on Friday, February 23, 2018. "We don't want people at work intoxicated from anything, whether it's alcohol or cannabis." (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

The country's top military commander dropped a broad hint Monday that some members of the Canadian Armed Forces — particularly those in dangerous occupations — will face special restrictions on the use of recreational marijuana after it becomes legal later this year.

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance told a Senate committee he'll soon make recommendations to the defence minister on what kind of policy should be put in place, including "a standard of abstinence."

The military is called upon to do "a dangerous duty, a serious duty, and we don't want people doing it stoned," he said.

Vance told the committee he must consider "the specific and unique circumstances associated with military service that would preclude someone from using cannabis at any particular point in time."

Not a total ban

That won't mean a total ban, he later told reporters.

"We will follow the law of the land, of course," he said.

Instead, he said, he'll look at common-sense regulations that take into account public safety.

"Although it may be available and part of a cultural norm, it's not for a pilot who is about to fly," Vance said. "Generally speaking we don't want people at work intoxicated from anything, whether it's alcohol or cannabis."

Civilian employers can prohibit drug and alcohol use in the workplace, with some exceptions for medical marijuana patients.

A Canadian flag with a marijuana leaf flies during a rally in support of legalizing marijuana on June 5, 2004 alongside Parliament Hill In Ottawa. Members of the military may face special restrictions on recreational cannabis use when it is made legal. (Photo by Donald Weber/Getty Images) (Donald Weber/Getty Images)

The military has limited and even banned the consumption of alcohol in specific circumstances and during operational deployments, notably in Afghanistan.

The subject of how to deal with legalized pot has been a matter of intense study within National Defence for almost a year.

A team of military policy experts — including medical and legal experts, and officers on operational duty — has been examining the implications of the cannabis legislation and looking at which military policies might have to change.

Last fall, the head of military personnel, Lt.-Gen. Chuck Lamarre, told CBC News he was prepared to "recommend or propose control measures" as long as there was scientific research to back them up.

Vance said he doesn't "anticipate this will be a significant problem for us."

Vance vows to 'be smart about' cannabis control

The military is trying to understand how best to detect marijuana use and the level of impairment among individuals.

"We want to make decisions based in evidence," Vance said. "We don't want to start laying down rules on when you can and can't use cannabis that don't make sense. We're going to try and be smart about it."

The Liberals government's marijuana legislation, Bill C-45, is still before the Senate.

The government's initial plan was to legalize recreational pot use by July, but Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor acknowledged earlier this month that the Senate vote won't take place until June 7, later than expected.

And if there are amendments at the Senate level, the bill might have to go back to the House of Commons.

That means it could be August or September before it becomes law.

The CBC's Murray Brewster looks at the military's preparations for legalized marijuana. 3:19

About the Author

Murray Brewster

Defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

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