Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Should police officers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder be permitted to work among the public?                     

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is both a federal and a national police force of Canada, and one of the most recognized of its kind in the world. It is unique in the world as a national, federal, provincial, and municipal policing body. The RCMP provides policing services to all of Canada at a federal level, and also on a contract basis to the three territories, eight of Canada's provinces (the RCMP does not provide provincial or municipal policing in either Ontario or Quebec), more than 190 municipalities, 184 aboriginal communities, and three international airports.                                        

Ron Francis who is a RCMP officer working in the RCMP detachment in Fredericton, New Brunswick and who lives on an aboriginal reserve, has been a member of the RCMP since 1993 and is the recipient of the RCMP’s 20-years service medal. He also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He says that he suffers from panic attacks, hot flashes and anxiety because a native on the reserve who legally possesses guns has threatened and plotted to kill him. He also said that he has seen former friends buried.
I have no doubts at all that medicinal marijuana is effective in treating PTSD and I have no doubts about him suffering from PTSD because of the threat and plot to kill him and seeing his friends dead. One in 10 people have post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. 
For this reason, he applied for and is legally permitted to smoke medicinal marijuana to calm him down which results in his autonomic nervous system and endocrine system going into a resting state.                                                        

The corporal says that he wakes up at 6 o’clock in the morning, and has his coffee and a joint of marijuana to start his day fully awake so that he is aware of his surroundings and what is expected of him as a police officer. I have no doubts about that.  He was prescribed three grams of marijuana a day this month to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, and although he doesn't smoke that amount, it is unlikely that the drug has negatively impacted his ability to work as a police officer. If the concern of his superiors is brought about because he smokes medicinal marihuana, then the concern of his superiors is frivolous. If it is because he suffers from PTSD, then there may be some justification for their concern.                                                                                                                       

The corporal was ordered to return his uniform and his firearm. The RCMP says its officers who are prescribed medicinal marijuana should not be in red serge or regular uniform or carry a firearm while they are taking their medication as it would not portray the right message to the public. Justice Minister Peter MacKay said, “An RCMP officer smoking marijuana while in uniform “sets a very poor example for Canadians.” There is some logic in their decision. Smoking marijuana (other than medicinal marijuana) is illegal in Canada and for a police officer to smoke it in public when a citizen doesn’t know that he is actually smoking medicinal marijuana, smacks in the face of those persons who wish they too can smoke marijuana but cannot.                 
The corporal was given stress leave and after he returned to work in January 2012, he has been reassigned to desk duty doing administration support work. The corporal is allowed to smoke medicinal marijuana on the job, but was told not to do it in his red serge or regular Mountie uniform. That decision seems rather silly to me especially if his job doesn’t entail him to be in direct contact with the public. Further, since he works in the office and is surrounded by officers who wear their firearms, there is no real necessity for him to wear a firearm. I think the concern he really has with respect to him not wearing his firearm is that he believes that his superiors don’t trust him with having a firearm in his possession. He thinks it is because he smokes marihuana. I don’t believe that is the real concern of his superiors.
PTSD has played a role in numerous situations involving murders, battered wives, abused children and other crimes committed by war veterans so it follows that it can also happen to police officers suffering from PTSD. Perhaps his superiors fear that he will suddenly go bonkers and shoot everyone in sight with his firearm. If that is so, their fear is justified.                                                    
However, the RCMP should suspend him with pay so that he can seek treatment and if later he no longer suffers from PTSD, he should return to work as a full-fledged police officer. If that option is available to him, he is not taking advantage of it.
He said that he wasn’t trying to draw attention to his treatment for PTSD and yet he actually did that on a CBC program which was in fact what drew his smoking medicinal marijuana to the attention of his superiors.
What he was trying to draw attention to the public was 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. He said that even those members who have joined the RCMP, their families and wives have no idea what kind of career they’re getting into since the RCMP does not prepare them for that. He said that there is nothing available for those families to see the changes that are going to take place in those members’ lives. 
That however is not what the RCMP is saying. They are saying that they are continuously working to strengthen the support they can offer employees affected by operational stress injuries. According to the RCMP, the commissioner has made it clear both publicly and to the employees of the RCMP that if they get sick or injured on the job, the RCMP will look after them and they will do it fairly. If that is so, then why isn’t this corporal on leave with pay so that he can be treated for his PTSD? Is it because he chooses to rely merely on his daily doses of medicinal marijuana? If that is his reason, it is very foolish on his part. It is like taking aspirin to cure a brain tumor.
That should be a concern to the general public in my opinion. However,  images of him on the CBC program in which he was smoking a joint while in his uniform was really provocative and stupid. I can see why his superiors were infuriated. Perhaps that is the real reason why they told him to hand in his uniform. Smoking a joint while in uniform smudges the image of a Mountie (member of the RCMP).                                                                                                    
The CBC reported that the corporal told the network there's no policy in the RCMP that prevents him from smoking his doctor-prescribed, medical-grade marijuana in public or while wearing his red serge or regular uniform. It appears that there is such a policy otherwise his superiors wouldn’t have demanded that he hand in his uniform. 
Adam Greenblatt, president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries, argued that the RCMP should allow the corporal to smoke in uniform so long as he’s not impaired while working. I disagree for the reasons I gave in a previous paragraph.
 According to the RCMP, any member on a mind-altering drug such as marijuana, OxyContin and Dilaudid is not permitted to perform operational duties, including carrying a firearm or operating a police vehicle, as this could pose a risk to themselves, a co-worker or the public. I agree with that statement because although a small amount of marijuana in a person’s system isn’t risky, there is no way of determining how much marijuana is in the corporal’s system at any one time.
                                                                                                                                                         The Conservative government’s tough stance on drugs, the notion that a weed-smoking cop is employed by the RCMP is somewhat ironic. In the last few months, the Conservative government has come down hard on Justin Trudeau for advocating legalization and admitting to smoking pot himself at a party after being elected to Parliament.  
The government has also moved to distance itself from the medicinal marijuana business. The onus is now on doctors to write prescriptions that would allow patients to obtain pot from federally licensed providers. Before, the government authorized individuals to possess marijuana and to produce it in limited quantities in their homes.
                                                                                                                                                      Francis could always take his marijuana in more discreet ways, such as baking it into a cookie or using a vaporizer. Of course he couldn’t use a vaporizer at work or on the street but he can use it at his home. To answer the question that I posted as the title of this article, my answer to the question is as follows; 
                                                                                                                                                         A police officer who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder is a risk to the public, his fellow officers and himself. He should be placed on leave with pay and be given treatment until he is cured of his illness. Medicinal marijuana eases the pain but doesn’t cure the illness. Placing a police officer who suffers from that kind of illness behind a desk is of no value to him whatsoever. I am not convinced that taking his uniform from him was the right thing to do but I believe that removing his firearm was correct.                                                             
                                                                                                                                             Members of the RCMP are covered in a health plan for only six hours of counselling a year without a referral from a superior officer and another six hours a year when the need is approved by a divisional or regional psychologist. In my opinion, that is not enough time for treating someone suffering from PTSD. But that doesn’t surprise me at all. Everyone knows that the hierarchy of the RCMP shit on their lower ranks.

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