I got some weird and crazy e-mail recently. Among the updates from war resisters groups and pot legalizers was a letter from the wife of a Canadian Forces soldier. The distraught woman was writing to ask my advice because her husband had failed his urine test and was being prevented from deploying to Afghanistan.
Talk about a moral dilemma. Oddly, just this month, writing for Cannabis Culture, I urged service personnel not wanting to wage war to get stoned and flunk the Department of National Defence's recently resumed pee test. If any CF soldier doesn't want to deploy, I'm offering to puff pot in their face all day or send them peace cookies. No reason to go AWOL.
So here I was being asked to help a soldier convince his superiors to retest him so he could deploy. I have no clout at DND, of course. However, it turns out that my anonymous soldier is one of 89 service personnel who popped positive out of the 2,276 tested before leaving for Afghanistan.
Two soldiers have been fired, three were able to show they had a narcotic prescription and five more were sent to counselling. There are 79 more administrative reviews to go.
According to Commander Denise Laviolette, the military has a very hard line on THC showing up in a soldier's urine. The thinking, she says, is that "You could've come for help before we caught you. There's personal responsibility. There's no second chance."
Odd, because I'd just read a DND directive emphasizing retention and rehabilitation for test flunkers, not dismissal. It reads, "A CF member shall normally be retained and placed on Counselling and Probation."
Laviolette bristles when I try to quote her the policy. That's until she looks up the directive herself and agrees that the criteria allow for grunts to defend themselves by arguing it's their first offence, the intake didn't happen on duty, it didn't impair operations and they're unlikely to reoffend.
Pee tests were reinstated in May, Laviolette says, because an increase in Taliban activity had General Rick Hillier wanting to ensure that everyone is shooting straight as an arrow. The decision, she says, "has nothing to do" with the kind of crops that fuel the Afghani economy. Or the report, carried on BBC a few months back of Canuck forces battling 10-foot-tall marijuana forest hiding insurgents.
When interviewed by the media, Hillier admitted at least one crew used cannabis to camouflage their vehicle. All efforts to down the indica thicket using white phosphorus and diesel fuel bombardment failed, he said. But when a small patch did ignite there were other problems: a section of soldiers downwind had "some ill effects.'
The United Nations Office of Drug Control estimates the Afghan cannabis crop at 30,000 acres, one-third of the world supply. The resinous strain packs that classic skunk smell and would be a terrible reefer toke, but it's pressed into hashish and transported to world markets. You can come across it in Toronto.
Are soldiers retested to make sure they're straight once they've settled into Kandahar? I can't help querying. "Where would they get the drugs from? In the mail?" Laviolette asks.
"The soldiers are in an enclosed environment. They're not even allowed to drink alcohol except for two beers on Christmas Day,' minister of defence spokesperson Isabel Bouchard reassures. "The military always needs to be ready. This is Canada, we respect the Afghan way of life and are their invited guests," she says.
Interesting, because a little reefer recreation is great for treating post-traumatic stress trauma that can take place when the party hosts start shooting at the invited guests as an impolite way of asking them to leave now, please.