Police Chief Mark Saunders has invited union leaders to participate in a discussion about a contentious policy which restricts officers from consuming cannabis within 28 days of reporting for active duty.

In a statement released hours prior to the legalization of cannabis at midnight, Saunders said that he is willing to keep an “open mind” about the force’s interim policy on the consumption of cannabis, which he notes “emerged after months of consideration and research.”

To that end, Saunders said that he has asked the Toronto Police Association (TPA) to participate in the service’s working group on cannabis, which helped craft the interim policy.

Saunders has asked that working group to report back to him on the effectiveness of the policy by April 2019.

“This change represents a significant transition, not just for members of the Toronto Police Service but for all Canadians. Consequently, it is reasonable to keep an open mind and to make room for practical considerations, if necessary,” Saunders said in the statement. “I have invited the Toronto Police Association and the Senior Officers Organization to join the working group, to ensure that their views are taken into consideration.”

The majority of police forces in the Greater Toronto Area have not set a period of time for which members must abstain from cannabis and have instead said that members will be subject to the same “fit for duty” policy that has always been in place.

Other forces elsewhere in Canada have introduced stricter polities, however. In Calgary and Edmonton police are prohibited from consuming cannabis entirely. The RCMP has also said that its members can’t use cannabis within 28 days of reporting for duty.

In his statement, Saunders said that it is important that police are always “unquestionably fit for duty.”

He said that because some research suggests that cannabis 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,” there needs to be a policy in place to ensure officers are always fit for duty.

“As members of the largest municipal police service in Canada, we must set a high standard. 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,” he said.

Union has slammed policy

The TPA, which represents nearly 8,000 members, has previously slammed the interim policy as “ill-contrived, arbitrary” and largely unenforceable.

Speaking with CP24 late Tuesday afternoon, TPA President Mike McCormack said his members have been “scratching their heads” over why the force felt it necessary to put such a restrictive policy in place.

He said that while he is “encouraged” that Saunders is willing to listen to stakeholders, he remains confused as to why a policy is needed in the first place when there are already rules requiring officers to show up fit for duty.

“It is the standard that everyone else is adopting across the province and it is frustrating when we have this 28-day ban that is tantamount to a ban on using a legal substance but yet you are OK to police in other parts of the province,” he said.