On Thursday (June 6), Transport Canada adopted a new rule mandating any airline flight crew member abstain from cannabis consumption 28 days prior to a shift.
The federal institution is responsible for creating and enforcing “safe, secure, efficient and environmentally responsible” policies for marine, rail, road, and airline transportation. In light of new laws around the distribution, consumption, and production of cannabis, the regulator saw fit to update its employee expectations.
Effective immediately, from pilots to the cabin crew, any airline crew member must wait four weeks after ingesting any form of cannabis before they're allowed to work.
Companies like Air Canada and WestJet have gone one step further and imposed outright bans any cannabis consumption for safety-critical employees, including pilots, dispatchers, cabin crew, and aircraft maintenance, even while off duty.
It’s logical any individual responsible for operating a giant pressurized metal tube hurtling through the air packed with civilians should operate at their clearest level of functionality. That’s reasonable—in fact, that’s the law. But there is a concerted push from scientists, advocates, and legal professionals to better educate and form fair policies around cannabis impairment.
Evidence shows, unlike alcohol that has a relatively similar and quantifiable impact across most consumers, cannabis ingestion, quantities, and impairment don’t produce clear or consistent links.
In 2017, the U.S. National Achademy of Sciences published a comprehensive review of the health effects of cannabis use, concluding there is little evidence to support a clear stance on how consumption impacts the number of occupational injuries and accidents.
Cannabinoids also store in cells and are detectable on toxicological screening devices long after the perceptual effects have worn off.
This isn’t the first time a federal organization has opted for a date-based system when it comes to regulating cannabis.
In fact, Transport Canada said this new rule was crafted in line with the RCMP and the Department of National Defence—both of which have hard-and-fast timelines imposed around cannabis.
The RCMP has a 28 day policy for all of its members—civilian and on-duty officers. And the Canadian Armed Forces are prohibited from consuming cannabis eight hours before general duty, 24 hours before operating weapons or parachutes, and 28 days before working in an aircraft, hyperbaric environment, or while high altitude parachuting.
This regulatory approach, which conflates ingestion with impairment, also extends to regional police using oral fluid screening devices to detect driving infractions. Some departments have spoken out against this method—going so far as to outright abandon Health Canada recommended devices all together—citing a stark lack in evidence supporting the accuracy or efficacy of the method to detect intoxication.
Many advocate for systems that instead rely on consumer education and fitness for duty tests, which gauge competency, clarity, and functionality against the physical and mental demands of an employee’s responsibilities. Think: a field sobriety test that sees a driver walk in a straight line or perform memory evaluations. In these cases, someone who exhibits signs of intoxication would not be allowed to complete their shift or report for duty, as opposed to assuming impairment simply because of admitted ingestion or a positive toxicological screening result.