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Legalized marijuana law will not affect some Ohio PDs’ hiring practices

Several northeast Ohio departments will continue to screen for marijuana, as the law permits employers to bar applicants who use it

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By Olivia Mitchell
cleveland.com

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Northeast Ohio police departments won’t change their hiring policies after the passage of Issue 2, the state law that legalized recreational marijuana and went into effect this month.

Several departments told cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer that they will continue to screen for cannabis, as the law permits employers to bar those who use it. The tests play a key role in the hiring process of officers: They limit the legal liability cities face.

“I believe zero tolerance would be the best way to continue from here,” said Paul Shepard, the chief of police in Fairview Park.

In November, voters made Ohio the 24th state in the nation to allow recreational marijuana, a move that gives adults 21 and older the right to buy and carry up to 2.5 ounces and grow plants.

On Dec. 7, the day recreational marijuana became legal in the state, Cleveland announced that it would eliminate pre-hiring tests for some workers. Mayor Justin Bibb said the screening has affected recruiting efforts.

But his move did not include police officers, firefighters or EMS workers.

“If you’re going into law enforcement, you need to know that you can’t use marijuana,” said Jeffrey Follmer, the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, the union that represents rank-and-file officers.

Cleveland, like many cities, doesn’t just test its officers in the hiring phase; it also tests randomly, a provision in the city’s contract.

The Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department will continue to screen applicants for marijuana use, while it awaits any guidance from state officials, said Jennifer Ciaccia, a spokeswoman for the county.

Candidates for county jobs undergo a drug test. Job offers are rescinded if an applicant tests positive for drugs or alcohol, according to the employee handbook.

Adam Chaloupka is an attorney for the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the union that represents corrections officers at the county jail. He said the union and the county have not discussed a new drug policy, based on Issue 2′s passage. Chaloupka said marijuana use has not been an issue for corrections officers.

“In six years, I have seen less than six corrections officers take drug tests (that) were positive for marijuana,” Chaloupka said.

In June, the county and the union agreed on random testing of officers. Previously, random testing was not allowed unless a work-related injury took place or there was reasonable suspicion that a jailer used drugs.

Cities offer extensive testing prior to hiring. Euclid’s police department, for instance, conducts a detailed background investigation that includes a screen for drugs, said Capt. Mitch Houser.

Because marijuana is so commonplace in society, departments have hired officers who have used it in the past. But cities such as Westlake and Fairview Park will not hire candidates who have used drugs within two years.

“We still have hired police officers with marijuana use in their past, but it’s like a two-year window,” said Westlake Lt. Gerald Vogel.

Shepard, the police chief of Fairview Park, said the city has no plans to change its hiring policy. Officers at Fairview Park are subject to random drug testing, but Shepard has concerns about the use of recreational marijuana.

He compared the amount of time it takes for alcohol to leave a person’s system to the time it takes for marijuana. An alcoholic drink will take about an hour to metabolize. Marijuana, however, can take several hours.

“If officers show up with alcohol on their breath, we have ways to quickly determine whether they are under the influence of alcohol and can take immediate action to prevent them from going on the road,” Shepard wrote in an email.

“Tests for marijuana are more intrusive and samples must be sent to a lab to determine the concentration of THC,” he said, referring to the compound that gives marijuana its high.

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