Medical marijuana use is taking root in Canada’s federal police force.
Over the last year, the number of active and former members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) who got reimbursed for their marijuana prescriptions has more than doubled. According to government documents obtained by Montreal news outlet La Presse, 47 officers had their prescriptions covered by the insurance plan for RCMP officers who have suffered injuries on the job from 2015 to 2016. The total cost for the medical weed — which averaged about one gram per day per officer — came to $272,000.
In 2014, 20 officers were reimbursed under the plan, for a total of $64,000. And the plan paid out only $8,000 for medical marijuana in 2013. According to La Presse, 5,200 current and former RCMP members are covered under that insurance plan. There are 28,461members of the force in total.
Canada has a robust medical marijuana regime for people with prescriptions and is set to begin legalizing it for recreational use next year. However, cannabis use remains a point of contention when it comes to law enforcement. Controversy over marijuana use in the RCMP reached fever pitch in 2013 when an officer was forced to surrender his formal uniform after he was filmed smoking his medical marijuana in it to raise awareness about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among officers.
“I’m trying to draw attention to the fact that the RCMP fails to have a program in place for proper PTSD screening for their members and proper information for their families,” Cpl. Ron Francis, who served with the force for more than 20 years and suffered from PTSD, told the National Post at the time.
Francis was condemned by his superiors and federal politicians for breaking the law and setting a “bad example.” In 2014, Francis was found dead in his home after an apparent suicide.
A spokesperson for the RCMP did not immediately reply to a request for comment from VICE News, but told La Presse that all active officers who have prescriptions for medical marijuana must inform their divisional head doctor and immediately refrain from performing operational tasks. The spokesperson also stressed that retired RCMP members who do not have a medical condition cannot be reimbursed for medical cannabis purchases.
As medical marijuana use continues to rise in the RCMP, so too is it becoming more commonplace within the Canadian army. Documents obtained by CBC earlier this year show that medical pot use among Canadian military veterans has spiked tenfold over the last two years. And from April to December of 2015, veterans’ insurance plan covered $12.1 million worth of medical cannabis for 1,320 veterans. Until recently, the insurance plan for Canadian vets was the only plan in the country that covered medical marijuana.
The high number of veterans using medical cannabis has prompted an internal review of the program by the federal minister of veterans affairs, and the government is moving to limit the amount of cannabis veterans can use to 10 grams per day.
In April, the US Senate approved an amendment to the Military Construction Appropriations legislation that would make it easier for military veterans to access medical marijuana in states where it’s legal.
Medical marijuana use among the general Canadian population has also gone up in recent years. There were 100 people registered with the federal government to obtain cannabis with a prescription in 2001. As of this year, that number has risen to well over 40,000.