Marijuana-smoking Mountie found dead

A Canadian mountie waits for the start of the medal ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympics in Whistler on February 19, 2010 (AFP Photo/Franck Fife)

Ottawa (AFP) - A Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer with a medical marijuana prescription for job-related stress has died of an apparent suicide after provoking a nationwide debate over his smoking in uniform.

Corporal Ronald Francis died Monday afternoon, officials said Tuesday.

"It appears no one else was involved in the death," RCMP Assistant Commissioner Roger Brown told a press conference.

"It is a tragic loss," he added.

Francis had smoked medical-grade marijuana to relieve post-traumatic stress related to 21 years on the job.

He gained widespread support last November for underscoring the need for employers to better understand medical marijuana use.

But it also earned him rebukes from his bosses.

The RCMP objected to him smoking in uniform, saying it risked tarnishing the federal police's image and sending mixed messages to the public about drug use.

Health Canada established regulations for accessing cannabis for medical purposes in 2001 after the courts struck down a broad prohibition of marijuana, but it remains controversial.

Recreational marijuana use is still illegal in Canada.

Francis's struggles came to light in video footage of him smoking cannabis in his RCMP red serge uniform.

"I get up in the morning, have my coffee and the marijuana. I go at lunchtime, have a marijuana joint, and then again in the evening. That would be my medical regime," he had told public broadcaster CBC.

"I'm still functional," he added. "But your nervous system is relaxed, and that makes a big difference."

RCMP Deputy Commissioner Gilles Moreau had said officers with a medical marijuana prescription could take their medication.

But he said that they should not do so while in uniform in public, and Francis said the RCMP stance was "anti-marijuana."

"I had to really make a moral decision about it. Because the RCMP and law enforcement, they seem so anti-marijuana, and that's a hard thing to overcome, so I had to make that decision for my own health. It wasn't based on my career or anything."

The disagreement escalated and Francis was ordered to turn in his uniforms.

Later he was charged with assaulting two fellow officers and breaching an undertaking to not possess or consume alcohol and non-prescription drugs.

He was to be sentenced in November after pleading guilty.