The Free Thought Project interviewed Jamie (last name withheld) who said he’d always wanted to become a police officer since leaving the Marines after the first Gulf War. But, he said, he had one obstacle to overcome before joining the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in North Carolina. He’d smoked weed while in high school and, at the time, his past use of the plant prevented him from becoming a police officer. Fast-forward 20 years, and Jamie may now want to consider moving to Maryland if he wants to continue his dreams of becoming an officer of the peace. That’s because the Mid-Atlantic state has relaxed its longstanding policy toward marijuana use.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Maryland has adopted the same relaxed policy towards marijuana that the FBI currently uses. The new standard, which will take effect on June 1, bars applicants if they smoked pot in the past three years. This is the same policy the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) uses. “The longstanding, previous policy had ruled out those who had used marijuana at least 20 times or at least five times since age 21,” writes the WSJ.
We are disqualifying otherwise perfectly qualified applicants based on a hiring standard that I think is inconsistent with where we are as a profession and a society,” said Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, who also is vice chairman of the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission, which voted to approve the new, more relaxed policy last week.
Maryland’s struggle with marijuana is reflective of the struggle many police departments are facing now that over half of the United States has enacted some form of legalized cannabis use for medicinal or recreational use. In other words, it’s getting harder for departments to find recruits who haven’t used marijuana previously.
When states like Arizona and cities like Phoenix are practically begging for people to become police officers, something has to give. Either the laws have to change that prevent people from consuming cannabis, or the police department standards must be changed to accommodate and reflect the changing attitudes toward marijuana. The latter is occurring all across the land according to the WSJ.
Still, there are the critics, like Jim Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police. In essence, he accused Maryland of rewarding illegal behavior by allowing potheads to become police officers. “So you’re basically saying with that change that if you broke the law 20 times, it’s OK as long as you haven’t done it lately…How would that apply to bank robbery or mail fraud? The idea here is you want people who respect the law, whatever the law is,” he told the WSJ.
We tend to agree. But, before freaking out, listen to the reasoning behind it. It is quite hypocritical for departments to forgive the previous ‘crimes’ of its officers only to turn them loose on society to arrest people for the very same ‘crimes.’ However, here is where we disagree with Pasco — smoking a plant is not a crime — as there is no victim. There is, however, a victim when a cop arrests a person for smoking a plant. In that instance, the person kidnapping, caging, or killing the person over the plant, is the aggressor.
Pasco’s equation of consuming a plant with robbing a bank, will certainly rile cannabis advocates, businessmen, and consumers alike. As The Free Thought Project has dutifully noted, the consumption of marijuana is much safer than consuming alcohol, something many police officers abuse, both on the job as well as off-duty. Just this month, three police officers were arrested in the same county in Texas for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) of alcohol. Yet cannabis, as innocuous as it is, is still being stigmatized by law enforcement leaders such as Pasco.
Still, even with changing attitudes towards cannabis, it appears we are a long way off from allowing police officers to use marijuana for their own illnesses. Likewise, healthcare workers who suffer from debilitating illnesses and chronic pain must depend solely on pharmaceutical treatments for their conditions or risk losing their medical board licenses. While it’s encouraging to see each state examine their stance on cannabis, we’re what seems to be light years away from having police officers and physicians as stoners.