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Chief Saunders defends 28-day marijuana ban for officers

Chief Mark Saunders speaks to reporters at Toronto police headquarters on Jan. 11, 2018. CITYNEWS

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders is defending the decision to disallow marijuana consumption by officers within 28 days of active duty.

News of the nearly month-long ban broke last week when an internal police video was leaked. On Tuesday — a day before federal marijuana legalization — Saunders confirmed and defended the decision in a statement.

“The standard I have proposed is that no member be permitted to serve on active duty within 28 days of consuming cannabis,” Saunders wrote. “This was the recommended approach that emerged after months of consideration and research.

“We are entrusted with the duty to enforce the law and are frequently required to engage in dangerous, stressful situations in order to protect peoples’ well-being. For the safety of the public, and for the safety of those working in the service, we must ensure that members are always unquestionably fit for duty.

“The science we have relied upon warns us that cannabis is a psychoactive drug that can continue to affect a person’s ability to make good decisions, concentrate, control impulses and rely on memory for up to several weeks after last use. Members need to rely on these very abilities every day.”

Saunders acknowledged that the interim policy may not be well received by all officers or the Toronto Police Association (TPA). Last week TPA President Mike McCormack called it “ill-contrived,” “arbitrary” and unenforceable.

In his statement Tuesday, Saunders acknowledged the need to be “fair and reasonable” and remain open minded when it comes to new research and science concerning marijuana and its effects.

“This change represents a significant transition, not just for members of the Toronto Police Service but for all Canadians,” he said. “Consequently, it is reasonable to keep an open mind and to make room for practical considerations, if necessary.”

The Toronto Police Services Board was quick to respond, standing behind the chief while keeping the door open to possible policy changes in the future.

“The board fully supports the chief’s interim procedure concerning recreational cannabis use by members of the service,” it said in a statement. “Like the chief, the board also recognizes that the medical research in this area is evolving, that any policy and procedure must be reasonable and fair to the members of the Toronto Police Service and that we must maintain an open mind in the months ahead as the board potentially establishes policy and the service drafts a finalized procedure.”