Local police departments across the country have faced recruiting difficulties for several years running. Things have only gotten worse in the midst of intense media scrutiny and calls to defund law enforcement. If all that were not enough, medical cannabis is creating additional problems for police recruitment in some states.
Traditionally, it has been understood that police officers cannot use marijuana. But we now have a situation in which thirty-six states legally recognize medical marijuana. So what do you do with the person who has a legitimate medical marijuana card and uses the drug routinely, but still wants to be a police officer? There are no easy answers.
Plenty of Inquiries in Utah
This very scenario is playing out in Utah. Though Utah weed laws are among the strictest in the nation, patients with valid cards can visit a local weed dispensary to buy marijuana flower, vaping liquids, certain edible products, and even topical medicines. But if they use, they cannot be police officers.
That’s not good for recruiting. Officials at Utah’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Council say they have been receiving increased inquiries from people interested in becoming police officers though they have used marijuana within the past year. Many of those inquiries are coming from corrections officers.
Unfortunately, they have to be told they are not eligible. Both state and federal regulations prevent marijuana users from becoming police officers for a number of reasons. First, they drive patrol cars as a routine part of their jobs. Second, they carry firearms. Third, they are regularly involved in volatile situations that require them to be at their best.
Like Any Other Drug
From a legal standpoint, the issue is out of the hands of local police agencies. They are obliged to follow state and federal law. They cannot even rely on a state rule that would allow them to treat medical marijuana use like alcohol or prescription opioid use. The fact is that marijuana is still illegal under federal statute. Police officials’ hands are tied.
Utahmarijuana.org says that those in favor of allowing medical marijuana patients to become police officers make a compelling point when they claim that marijuana is just like any other prescription drug. In Utah, marijuana is only allowed for legitimate medical reasons. The state does not allow recreational use.
With that being the case, proponents say that a medical marijuana prescription is no different than an NSAID prescription. Using weed away from the office should be no different than using alcohol. They maintain that a police department’s only concern should be one of impairment. As long as an officer is not impaired on the job, what they do at home is irrelevant.
Washington Is Part of the Problem
There is plenty of blame to go around in relation to police departments and their recruiting troubles. Washington bears quite a bit of it due to its insistence on riding the fence. Remember that state law prevents marijuana users from becoming police officers because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.
At the same time, federal officials have willingly turned a blind eye as dozens of states have legalized medical marijuana. They have chosen not to enforce the law. This creates a domino effect of conflict that influences everything from police recruiting to shipping medical weed across state lines.
If Washington wants marijuana to remain illegal, federal agencies need to enforce the law. If they are not going to enforce the law, politicians need to decriminalize the drug. Until that happens, police agencies will be prevented from hiring medical weed users.