Pubdate: Wed, 26 Apr 2017
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2017 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

BALTIMORE - As more states relax their approach to marijuana, police
departments are rethinking how many hits are too many for aspiring

Maryland just passed a new standard, set to take effect in the state
June 1, that bars applicants if they smoked pot in the past three
years, the same policy used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The longstanding, previous policy had ruled out those who had used
marijuana at least 20 times or at least five times since age 21.

"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.

With marijuana laws changing in areas around the country, some police
departments are considering candidates with more recent use.

Since 2012, ballot initiatives in eight states and Washington, D.C.,
have legalized small amounts of marijuana for adult recreational use,
and five state legislatures, including Maryland's, have decriminalized
marijuana possession in small amounts, according to the National
Conference of State Legislatures.

Jim Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of
Police, America's largest police-labor organization, criticized
Maryland's new policy for allowing people who smoked marijuana
illegally to pursue a career as enforcers of laws.

"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," he said.
"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."

The evolving view on marijuana is the latest topic of debate among
police officials, who have wrestled with everything in recent decades
from the role of women to the appropriateness of tattoos, said Jim
Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation, a Washington-based,
law-enforcement think tank.

Police leaders today are "trying to find that balance between keeping
moral character and integrity of their workforce high, while at the
same time being realistic about societal expectations," said Mr.
Bueermann, a former police chief in Redlands, Calif.

Policies of police departments vary around the country. The Miami-Dade
Police Department's drug-use policy for would-be officers considers
various factors if an applicant used marijuana or other drugs as a
juvenile, and it has an exception for pot-smoking "for the purpose of
experimentation" if it has been at least two years.

In Philadelphia, a unit supervisor reviews the application of anyone
who used marijuana in the past five years, unless the person used pot
more than 100 times, in which case a panel of commanders does the review.

After a 2012 voter initiative decriminalized marijuana under
Washington state law, Seattle's police department went from a
three-year limit on pot use for prospective officers to one year.

The New York Police Department doesn't automatically disqualify
candidates based on when or how often they used marijuana but
considers "the totality of the circumstances," such as frequency,
duration and the age of the candidate at use, said Deputy Chief
Timothy Trainor.

"Kids are stupid, let's be honest," he said. The NYPD has rejected
candidates for past marijuana use, he said, though he didn't have figures.

One benefit to easing marijuana-use policies is it can boost
recruiting in what is a challenging time for some departments, said
Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs
Association, which represents chiefs from 68 of the country's largest
cities. "The broader the base of people that use marijuana, legally,
it can influence your candidate pool," Mr. Stephens said. "What do you
do? You make adjustments."

Mr. Stephens noted that marijuana remains illegal under federal law
and that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions takes a harder line than
his recent predecessors. He said a substance's legality doesn't
guarantee acceptance; some departments won't hire people who smoke
cigarettes, even though tobacco use by adults is legal.

For Baltimore, the challenges are many. The city is on track to report
more homicides this year than last, and Mr. Davis said the department
is trying to fill 120 officer vacancies. The change in the marijuana
policy may help with that effort. The department has had to turn away
30 potential hires so far this year for running afoul of the strict
1970s-era policy on past marijuana use.

Now city police officials say they plan to give those rejected
applicants a fresh chance for a spot with the 2,500-officer department.

Mr. Davis said he would still quiz potential candidates on their prior
marijuana use and will consider factors such as the person's age and
maturity level at the time. "You can be in medical school at Johns
Hopkins University with marijuana use above 20 [times], but you can't
be a police officer?" he said. "It doesn't make sense."
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