Fraser Horton
Fraser Horton
Last Updated on March 6, 2021

Marijuana laws are changing as the legalization of both medicinal and recreational cannabis is on the rise in the United States. However, even though buying cannabis for recreational purposes from your local dispensary may be legal in your state, that doesn’t mean it’s legal to use if you’re working in law enforcement. Police officers, similar to firefighters, are subject to different laws compared to regular people as their job involves making tough life and death decisions under pressure.

Throughout history, law enforcement agencies and police forces were very strict when it came to recruits with a history of cannabis consumption, given that they were labeled as stoners. That can still happen, although in some states nowadays there’s a more lenient stance on past drug use. 

For that reason, we’ll dive into the laws in the US that surround the consumption of cannabis in the police force.

Federal Law on Medical Marijuana

As marijuana legalization is on the rise, police departments around the United States are starting to clarify their position on medical marijuana prescriptions to cops. At the moment, cannabis is listed as a Schedule I illegal substance under the Controlled Substance Act by the federal government. Hence, employees like police officers are stuck between state and federal laws with a lot of police departments adopting a zero-tolerance policy on the use of medical marijuana.

On the other hand, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the cultivation and use of medical marijuana with THC levels of up to 0.3%. That enabled medical marijuana users to apply for a medical cannabis card in order to be eligible for treatment with THC and CBD-rich cannabis products. 

But do police officers fit in this scenario, as they’re the ones who are allowed to use firearms? And does medical cannabis use disqualify a recruit from becoming a police officer? Read on to find out.

Can You Become a Police Officer if You’ve Consumed Cannabis in the Past?

In some states in the US, past cannabis use no longer disqualifies a candidate from becoming a police officer. For example, after Illinois legalized marijuana for recreational use, the Chicago Police department didn’t dive into the history of marijuana use of their applicants. That’s not to say that candidates who smoked last week and still have TCH in their blood would be eligible to apply, but people who may have experimented with the herb in their youth are at least given a chance.

This type of drug policy is generally used in order to widen the recruitment pool, and even more jurisdictions are looking into implementing similar approaches. In fact, some of the police agencies in Colorado are shifting their attitude towards recruits with past marijuana use. A lot of these changes are a result of the increasing cop shortages in America, and even the FBI and the Secret Service have changed their stance on weed consumption among their employees.

Can Police Officers Consume Cannabis?

While doing background checks and drug testing recruits is done by most police departments, state law defines the policies on drug use for police officers. Police departments go on a case-to-case basis to figure out if the applicant had consumed marijuana prior to starting the job, as well as their involvement in sale and distribution. 

Often, police chiefs believe that people who are under the influence of cannabis should be prohibited from using a firearm. Because of marijuana’s psychoactive effects, police chiefs believe that there’s a risk that the effects of the substance could “spill” from home to work.

Since cannabis use may cause impairment as a result of the metabolites being present in the body, it’s best that police officers refrain from using weed. In the end, that’s what’s best for both public safety and the safety of police officers.

Some States and Their Cannabis Policies

California

Both recreational and medical marijuana are legal in the state of California as this state has been at the forefront of efforts to liberalize cannabis laws. But, when it comes to medical cannabis use or recreational use of marijuana, this state isn’t as lenient. Many agencies aim to be federally compliant and enforce a drug-free workplace. Hence, the use of marijuana among the police force is forbidden.

Utah

Utah is one of the states that allows police recruits who use medical marijuana to apply to be police officers. This was a change to the prior law that forbade police academy applicants who have used cannabis in the past two years to apply for the program. 

Those who do consume medical marijuana must show that their use is legitimate, as well as disclose all the products they use, so that the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food can check if the product has been approved for use.

Arizona

Some Arizona police departments allow the use of medical marijuana for their first-responders, and only a few police departments stand against medical marijuana use by cops. Arizona agencies don’t have special policies when it comes to cops being prescribed medical marijuana cards, but some employees who use cannabis may risk getting reassigned or being put on paid leave.

Medical Marijuana Regulation in Relation to Law Enforcement 

The use of marijuana, especially recreational marijuana, is prohibited for law enforcement officers, but what about medical marijuana? These policies vary, with some of them forbidding cops to get medical marijuana prescription, and others allowing cops to use medical marijuana for qualifying conditions.

On the one hand, police officers can be drug tested after a driving or shooting incident on duty, as driving can be impaired by the cannabinoids in weed. On the other hand, some police departments are prepared to embrace medical weed with THC levels below 0.3%. 

Users need to specify the medical cannabis they’re using, in order for the whole process to be overseen by the state’s police academy. Moreover, the California Supreme Court states that employers may ask their employees pre-employment drug tests in which the results are taken into consideration whilst making employment decisions.

Final Thoughts on Law Enforcement Using Cannabis  

Under federal law, weed still has a no-tolerance policy in relation to police officers and cannabis use, and cannabis legalization still hasn’t changed that. The Controlled Substances Act has an exact law when it comes to law enforcement using drugs that are prohibited. This makes it impossible for cops who use weed to own a firearm, and therefore do their work.

Laws definitely vary from state to state, but the truth is that each state must conform with the federal law. Therefore, all those who want to become recruits and later police officers need to be completely clean to be eligible to apply. Because of drug tests that are done pre-employment, it’s possible for people who tested positive for illegal drug use to not be accepted in the police force.

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