A person with a history of marijuana use, no matter how sporadic, is not typically considered a qualified candidate for law enforcement. These agencies have long since preferred to recruit, what they perceive to be, more upstanding members of civil society to help further their rough neck agendas. Perhaps this is because, for the past several decades, one of the main job requirements of a police officer has been to serve as a foot soldier in the American drug war.
So it stands to reason that a former stoner might be a conflict of interest in the impossible fight to rid the streets of illegal drug across the United States. But that was before. These days, marijuana is being legalized in more jurisdictions for medicinal and recreational use. In fact, more than half the nation has embraced the leaf in some form or fashion. Some say it is just a matter of time before the federal government is finally forced to throw in the towel and deem the herb a legitimate part of national commerce. But until then, some recruits are going to be trashed for dabbling in the doobie.
Still, some police departments are relaxing their policies when it comes to candidates that may have experimented with the herb as part of their youth. The Chicago Police Department — the second largest cop shop in the country — is one of them. The city’s Human Resources Board confirmed last week with the Chicago Sun-Times that the CPD has, in fact, eliminated past marijuana use as an automatic disqualifier.
This policy change comes two years after Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel announced that he was open to hiring police officers that may have been convicted of minor drug or other criminal offenses. His decision to lift these restrictions, as per the recommendations made during the Obama administration, was intended to pull in more minorities to help get a handle on the city’s high crime rate. The Council’s Black and Hispanic Caucuses also pressured the mayor to adopt this less restrictive policy.
“I want to take a look at the general idea that, if somebody did something when they were 16 or 17, that doesn’t become an entire impossibility, as long as it’s not serious, to joining a police department,” Mayor Emmanuel said back in December 2016.
Although this minute change in the city’s police recruitment policy was helpful, it wasn’t enough.
On July 20, during a meeting with the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Workforce Development, chairman Salvador Cicero revealed that the city has been seeing an increasing stack of appeals from police candidates who were passed over for using substances like marijuana and Adderall. The three-member board agreed to change the way it handles these applications, “but it’s on a specific case-by-case basis,” the report says.
The city’s cases of past marijuana use could be more frequent than they think. Illinois already has a medical marijuana program on the books. In March, 63 percent of the voters in Cook County said “yes” when asked “Shall the State of Illinois legalize the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for recreational use by adults 21 and older subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance?” Lawmakers are hoping to discuss recreational use in 2019. Legal cannabis could soon be a big part of Chicago’s economy.
This does not mean the force is turning a blind eye to marijuana use. Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told the news source that “the circumstances around historical usage and experimentation” would be evaluated as needed. A candidate with an extensive record of smoky indiscretions might not receive the same leniency as someone who got high once at a concert. Either way, recruits that check the box, “Yes, I have smoked marijuana” will have to jump through more hoops than their straight edge counterparts.
“For the current hiring plan, our standards were recently modified and conform to national best hiring practices for major city police departments and many federal law enforcement agencies,” Guglielmi said. “Individuals who have used or experimented with certain types of narcotics in the past must undergo additional background investigation into the reasons behind the drug use.”
Perhaps it is time for more law enforcement agencies to take similar action. In the midst of increasing violence in parts of the country, recruitment is down in many jurisdictions. Furthermore, disqualifying a candidate for having a connection to the cannabis scene is only going to thin the pool further in the years to come. Some of the latest data shows that more than half of the adults in the U.S. have tried marijuana at least once in their life.
TELL US, have you ever been disqualified from a job due to cannabis use?