While Maryland is hardly the foremost state when it comes to progressive marijuana policies, it has experienced a significant evolution over the past five years. In 2010 possession of trace amounts of marijuana was punishable by up to a year in jail, and medical marijuana was still a pipedream. As it stands now possession of small amounts of pot and the paraphernalia accompanying it is no longer a crime, and we are weeks away from the first grow facilities and dispensaries receiving their official licenses. Despite these significant changes to criminal laws, modified marijuana rules for the workplace have not yet taken shape.
Many employers in the public and private sector still drug test their employees for the presence of marijuana, and a positive test can cost someone their job. This has become a highly publicized issue in the National Football League, which has teams in states where marijuana use is legal. It is also an issue with respect to government jobs, where teachers, utility workers, court staff and many others face antiquated drug testing policies that punish marijuana use but don’t mention a thing about alcohol. No public sector job is as restrictive as law enforcement when it comes to marijuana use, which is understandable save for the fact that many law enforcement agencies focus on past pot use rather than current use. Maryland has some of the harshest regulations concerning prior marijuana use for its police officers, and at least one police chief believes it’s time for a change.
The Maryland Police Training Commission, which is responsible for establishing hiring regulations for all law enforcement agencies in the state outright disqualifies any applicant that has used marijuana more than 20 times, or more than 5 times after turning age 21. This policy has been in place since the 70’s, and was likely in response to then President Nixon declaring a national war on drugs in 1971. Forty years later the rigid hiring restrictions are still in place, and the Baltimore City Police chief is tired of turning away otherwise qualified applicants based on honest answers in their cadet applications. The city chief has suggested that the rule be changed to prohibit hiring only those that have used marijuana in the past 3 years. This is definitely a step in the right direction, and the chief should be commended for speaking out against this arcane regulation. In reality though this suggestion still comes up short in where we need to be in 2016.
Police officers are under historically high levels of scrutiny and have been the target of senseless acts of violence over the last few weeks. Many current officers are questioning whether their desire to protect and serve is outweighed by this new brand of danger. Police departments in Maryland should not have to turn away any qualified applicants based on prior pot use. Prior social use of marijuana has absolutely no bearing on an applicant’s commitment and dedication to the job, and frankly our cities and towns need more officers that are in tune with the communities they serve. Current officer testing for pot is completely understandable as long as it’s an illegal substance (and it won’t be for long) but prior use regulations have run their course and need to be phased out by our state as soon as possible.
Benjamin Herbst is a criminal defense attorney who handles misdemeanor, traffic and felony charges in Baltimore City and all Maryland counties. Contact Benjamin for a free consultation about your case anytime at 410-207-2598.