The Royal Canadian Mounted Police attracted national attention last month when one of their officers challenged the RCMP about being able to smoke medicinal marijuana while on the job and in uniform.
Cpl. Ronald Francis serves with the RCMP in New Brunswick and on November 4th, he received a prescription for medical-grade marijuana to combat his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms. His prescription allows for three grams (approximately 9-15 joints) a day. According to Francis, smoking marijuana has no impact on his ability to be a police officer. He also added that he has full intentions to continue smoking on the job and while in uniform (Source: CBC).
“There’s no policy in the RCMP that prevents me from smoking marijuana. There’s no policy in the RCMP that says I cannot smoke in public. I have the right to smoke it in my red serge.”
In an attempt to raise awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder, Francis was filmed smoking marijuana while in uniform and the situation quickly went viral and attracted national attention. (Source: National Post)
Was the RCMP accommodating Francis' PTSD?
Moreau agreed that the RCMP has a duty to accommodate the medical needs of their members, but he also added that they “must also consider the effect on other members and on public perceptions”. (Source: CBC) The RCMP initially provided Francis with treatment for his PTSD through an occupational stress injury clinic – part of a program the force has put in place specifically for members who experience mental health difficulties. However, Francis soon began seeking out alternative treatments.
“Because this is relatively new for active members of the RCMP, we are looking at the internal policies to see, how do we set it up? To say, OK, if somebody is prescribed medical marijuana and they have to take it two or three times a day and have to take it at work, where is this going to take place? If it takes place outside, it has to respect the individual but also their co-workers, and it has to respect the Canadian population at large by taking it in a respectful way.” (Moreau)
Update on the situation
Things quickly escalated upon release of the video footage of Francis smoking marijuana in public. On November 28th, Francis was stripped of his duties and placed on medical leave. He had his regular work uniform seized and was ordered to turn in his red serge uniform the following day.
The story escalated even further on December 6th when Francis was charged with assaulting a fellow officer. According to Cst. Julie Rogers-March, the incident took place as the Mounties attempted to locate him for a “wellness check” due to concerns about his medical condition. It is alleged that Francis assaulted an RCMP officer and a stun gun was then used to control the situation. Francis is currently undergoing a 30-day psychiatric assessment (Source: The Star).
Legal responsibilities for employers
This is a precedent-setting case for the RCMP as well as many other companies across Canada. It raises the overarching question - how should employers manage employees who are prescribed medical marijuana – particularly those who are engaged in public safety. Should they be provided with designated spaces at work? Should they be given modified duties?
An employer does have the right to challenge medical treatments it considers inappropriate by seeking a second medical opinion. In addition to this, an employer can also evaluate any worker that obtains a medical marijuana prescription (or any other inappropriate or questionable treatment) to ensure that they are not impaired in judgement or motor skills. In the event that the worker is impaired in some way, the employer can place limits on the type or nature of work the worker is permitted to perform.
In this case, prior to his medical leave placement, Francis was given modified duties by the RCMP to ensure that he was never doing work that would have been “remotely understood to have been police-related.” The RCMP also released a statement saying that they are continuously looking at strengthening supports for officers with operational stress injuries and are looking at its policies to define how it manages members who have been prescribed medicinal marijuana. (Source: MacLeans)
What do you think?
There has been a lot of discussion and controversy surrounding this case. Saint John MP Rodney Weston said that the RCMP’s decision to seize Francis’s uniform created some confusion among local citizens. Some questioned the response given the fact that Francis does have a prescription for medicinal marijuana. Others were supportive of the decision saying that, when you’re part of an institution like that, you need to understand the importance of the values that uniform represents and preserve that. So what do you think? Leave your responses in the comments section below.
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