Ariz. officials seek to relax marijuana recruiting policy
Some leaders are asking that the time frame recruits must abstain from marijuana use before being hired by a law enforcement agency be lowered from two years to six months
By Cecilia Chan
East Valley Tribune (Mesa, Ariz.)
MESA, Ariz. — Melissa Huff wanted to carry a gun and a badge and so she applied to be a cop in a northern Arizona city of roughly 44,000.
However, her disclosure during the hiring process that she had consumed marijuana in January 2023 delayed her career goal.
In Arizona , consumption of marijuana is prohibited within two years of appointment as an officer, meaning Huff would have to wait until January 2025 to become a recruit.
But Bullhead City Police Chief Robert Trebes pointed out that Huff consumed the cannabis after voters approved its recreational use in November 2020.
“So she did it while it was legal,” said the chief, who went before the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board last November to argue for a waiver. “And I think that’s a point to be recognized here.”
Trebes said he hired Huff instead as a police service aide and “in that time she’s been absolutely remarkable.”
“Her work ethics is great. She displays all the qualities that we could all agree we would want in law enforcement.”
AZ POST has been getting enough requests from law enforcement agencies for waivers of pre-employment marijuana use that the board last week gave staff the OK to pursue relaxing prior marijuana use down to six months from two years.
The last time the board updated this rule was in 2019, when it dropped the waiting period to the current two years from three. The updated rules also put no cap on prior marijuana use at any age and the way it was ingested no longer matters.
The intent of the board’s rule is to assure that an applicant does not have a pattern of drug abuse and allow enough time to show little likelihood drug use will not recur after hiring.
“My recommendation for your consideration is we go for a six-month window,” said Matt Giordano, executive director. “We would go to six months of the last use.
“The reason why I think six months is doable is it doesn’t eliminate it completely... Six months is not unheard of for a hiring process.”
Giordano said staff polled other POST agencies around the country on how they handled pre-employment drug use.
The 18 responses ran the gamut and staff could not find one consistent theme, he said.
“Historically Arizona has led the charge in this area,” Giordano said. “Routinely we set the standards nationally and people are looking to us to what we do and follow our lead.”
Police chiefs and sheriffs in Arizona also were polled but there was no clear direction on how they wanted to go on this issue, he added.
“What I could find as a common theme was no one really was comfortable with getting rid of the standard and saying, ‘as long as you don’t use it from day one, we’re good with it,’” Giordano said.
He added that marijuana seemed the most pressing “because if you talk to any agency head, any people in hiring ... where they’re losing most men and women is in the pre-employment marijuana usage, not necessarily dangerous and narcotic drugs.”
Board member Kevin Robinson, a Phoenix City Council member and former assistant police chief in that city with a 38-year career in law enforcement, supported the six-month recommendation.
“I think it reflects the realities of the situation where marijuana in Arizona has been legalized,” he said. “I understand it’s federally illegal but it’s not enforced and people see that as a legal thing to engage in, in Arizona.
“I think the standard is a good move and will help police agencies hire people who are otherwise qualified to be police officers.”
Board member Matthew Figueroa commented that until the rule is approved, the board will continue to consider waivers.
Figueroa, a jail commander for the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, said changes have already been made at his department.
“We have changed the standard for marijuana use — it’s just you have to stop now,” he said.
“We know our standards have to be somewhat a little bit more loose than AZ POST standard in order to bring people in,” he added.
Board member and Mohave County Sheriff Doug Schuster also supported the proposal, noting, “We have struggled with these waivers time and time again.”
“I think this will really help us,” he continued.
“What I like about the six-month window is it doesn’t scare candidates away.”
Board member Joseph Krajcer noted even after the window was reduced by a year in 2019, AZ POST was now seeing an influx of waivers.
“So, if we change it to six months, how long is it going to be before we start seeing an influx of waivers again?” the Tempe Police detective wondered.
Figueroa responded, “We now have a standard that if we see waivers coming in, as a board we would look at those waivers at six months.”
Giordano said AZ POST would never stop an agency from submitting a request for a waiver but like he did three years ago with the last update, he would caution them that the board was very clear with the change.
Chairman Mark Dannels said that the board needed to hold the ground on six months if that is agreed to.
The six-month window also would apply to inactive officers from the date when the officer leaves an agency and remains on inactive status for three years under AZ POST jurisdiction.
“We’re having that happen more frequently now where an officer leaves in good standing from an agency, decides for whatever reason, maybe they’re retired from that agency and they don’t think they’re ever coming back to law enforcement and they go buy recreational marijuana legally,” Giordano said.
He said if that inactive officer during that three-year period used marijuana and reapplied to another agency and it’s disclosed he or she used the drug, AZ POST would open a case against the officer.
“That’s a loss to our profession,” Giordano said.
Giordano said he anticipated having a draft of the rule update in February for board action. From there it will go to AZ POST’s consultant and to the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council for approval. Once approved, it would be six months before it could take effect.
Giordano told the board that the new rule could go into effect late this year or early 2025.
The board in November granted Huff’s waiver as well as a waiver for the Surprise Police Department for an applicant who consumed marijuana 170 times from October 2022 to June 2023.
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