Baltimore Police Could Ease up on Marijuana Restrictions for Recruits

By Michael Klazema on 7/25/2016

The Baltimore Police Department may be easing up on background restrictions for recruits. According to a recent report from the Baltimore Sun, the department may reconsider some of its recruit hiring policies and qualifications. Currently, the department's background check process for recruits includes both criminal background checks and drug tests.

Under existing policies set by the Maryland Police Training Commission, there is zero tolerance for past or current drug use among new police recruits. That policy applies to all police departments throughout the state, not just the Baltimore Police Department. According to the Baltimore Sun article, Baltimore's Police Commissioner wants to change that policy to allow for more leniency. He told the paper that the policy—which dates back to the 1970s—is "fundamentally inconsistent with where we are as a society."

The public stigma surrounding marijuana use is fading nationwide and the drug has even been decriminalized in parts of the nation, including in the state of Maryland. The Baltimore Police Commissioner's argument is that if using the drug is no longer a criminal offense in Maryland, the state should also no longer be barring police recruits for marijuana use.

The Maryland Police Training Commission continues to be highly critical of drug use among recruits. The policy as it stands now bars recruits who have used marijuana "more than 20 times in their lives or five times since turning 21 years old." It is challenging for administrators to track those numbers definitively without arrests and drug charges. The Baltimore Police Commissioner claimed that marijuana usage remains the number one reason that the force has to disqualify applicants. The issue has posed a challenge for the department, which is attempting to diversify its ranks after racial tension reached a boiling point in the state last year.

Currently, potential drug use is measured in multiple ways. The Baltimore Police Department runs criminal history checks which can turn up older drug convictions related to marijuana as well as other crimes. Applicants must also go through a urinalysis which can detect traces of marijuana in the body. These tests can vary in how far back they go depending on the frequency of use. According to the Drug Test Network, a single instance of marijuana usage can be caught in a urine test five to eight days later. Someone who uses marijuana daily would need 49 to 63 days to test clean.

While criminal checks and urinalysis would likely flag the most serious marijuana users, according to reports, the most heavily weighted portion of the screening process is the interview. Recruiting officers are required to ask applicants about their history with marijuana during the interview. If an applicant is honest about his or her drug use and admits to using marijuana more than 20 times ever and more than five times since turning 21, the department is legally bound to disqualify that person.

The Baltimore Police Commissioner wants a more lenient and straightforward policy: no marijuana usage in the past three years and no questions about anything before that. His thought is that everyone has a history of some sort and that a recruit who used drugs frequently as a teenager or young adult shouldn't necessarily be forced to pay for those sins now. Though the FBI maintains a similar three-year policy, implementing a similar policy across Maryland police departments could still be difficult according to reports. The Baltimore Sun article featured both an administrator who wants to change the policy and several other sources strongly against any sort of policy change.


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