Maryland’s House Workgroup to Address Police Reform and Accountability, established after the police killing of George Floyd, voted on a number of measures last week including one that would not disqualify people who have used cannabis in the past from applying to be police officers.
This was one of the 11 initial measures the workgroup voted on last Thursday, October 8, in preparation for recommendations they would make during the 2021 legislative session. Most of these recommendations are directly related to police accountability including making all police departments across the state wear body worn cameras, creating a statewide use of force statute, slightly limiting the power of police unions, and more. Generally, those recommendations that were voted on were framed as the less loaded ones.
The cannabis-related recommendation, which reads “prior marijuana use would no longer disqualify a prospective officer from being hired,” was separated from another recommendation regarding mental health tests for officers (“Mental health screenings and assessments would be required before hiring any officer. Officers also would be reevaluated periodically by a certified mental health professional”). During the vote, some delegates took issue with how vague the recommendation appeared to be.
“You didn’t give me any parameters,” Baltimore County Delegate Kathy Szeliga said. “Are you saying somebody can be smoking pot every day and then go apply to the police force and not have been free from marijuana use for six months, a year, two years? If somebody’s getting high every day they can then join the police force? Is that what you mean? Broad language.”
Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary conceded that the language is broad but explained that the point of the recommendation is that cannabis use “can’t be an absolute bar that you can’t be hired because of prior marijuana use.”
Delegate Michael Jackson agreed with Szeliga and said, “I’m certainly not in favor of someone, you know, using until the test date.”
As of 2017, due to eased restrictions approved by the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission, prospective police officers must have not used cannabis in the past three years. Before that change, the policy in effect which goes back to the seventies, disqualified prospective officers if they had used cannabis more than 20 times in their lives or five times since they turned 21.
The idea with 2017’s eased restriction as well as this newly approved recommendation is that it increases the number of people who can apply to become police officers.
Delegate David Moon, one of the most vocal cannabis advocates in the legislature, mentioned that this would increase the number of potential applicants while also highlighting hypocrisies regarding cannabis usage and other perceived “vices.”
“I think we need to broaden our pool,” Moon said. “And frankly we’re not doing this kind of screen on other crimes like gambling on brackets, which was only decriminalized in Maryland recently.”
Notably, Delegate Darryl Barnes was also a “no” vote despite Barnes vocal support of expanding the medicinal cannabis industry in Maryland.
The recommendation passed by a vote of 8-5.
Illustration by Kathy Wyche