Our community expects that our officers are in a physical and mental condition that allows them to make the best decisions when serving our community. They expect that our officers are not intoxicated on any substance which may impair their ability to make decisions about the community’s safety and the individual rights of the members of our community.
Marijuana is defined as a schedule 1 drug by the federal government because it “Has a high potential for abuse” and as of this time, studies do not support that marijuana has any medicinal purposes. Many states have legalized marijuana for recreational use by citizens. Because law enforcement organizations are funded by federal funds, federal law prohibits the use of marijuana by law enforcement officers at this time. This has created an environment for easy direction by police department’s for its officers and that is to not partake in any marijuana for THC use.
Police Department administrative investigations by specialized units such as internal affairs have been limited to alcohol use, both on and off duty. Due to the long-standing legalization of alcohol, its use by both citizens and law enforcement officers, scientific studies have long researched the psychological effects of alcohol and its variability based on measurable Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). Research has identified elimination rates and how it is affected by age, weight, and tolerance. Because of this research, technology has been produced to measure both blood and breathe alcohol levels with a degree of accuracy that can be introduced into the court and administrative guidelines could be created and upheld in arbitration.
Administrative guidelines have been created as a result of this science and technology which give direction for our officers and departments on how to handle situations involving intoxication of alcohol. This makes investigation and discipline possible within these departments.
Unfortunately, at this time extensive research has not been gathered related to the measurable amounts of THC in the body and how it relates to the psychological effects of a person. This includes the elimination rates and the presence of residual cannabinoids in the blood. Until the accuracy of these measurements can be determined and accepted as standardized in the courts and within our departments the ability to outline administrative guidelines will be ineffective.
Once cannabis and its effects on decision making are understood, and technology has been developed to non-invasively measure psychologically effective cannabinoids in the blood, administrative guidelines can be created and successful investigations and potential disciplines can be effective.
These advances in understanding and measuring THC and how it affects decision-making have already begun. It will not be until it is understood more before adoption is a reality for law enforcement officers. This would include factors such as a minimum amount of time between use and active duty, as well as understanding the presence of non-psychologically effective cannabinoids in the blood.
I believe that once it is understood and accepted by the community, and as a nation as a whole, the use of marijuana by law enforcement officers will be adopted and measures will need to be in place for our departments to administratively define what acceptable marijuana use by the officer is.
When a young person begins to come of age and begins experimenting with the use of alcohol, there are many learning lessons, and each individual begins to understand what they like and don’t like about alcohol use and their level of tolerance is. This learning curve hopefully occurs in environments that are conducive to learning and making mistakes. It is a matter of time before a person can become comfortable with the use of alcohol and decide whether or not it will take a role in his or her life. As adult police officers we have already been vetted through backgrounds, physicals, and decision making skills and we would expect that each of us has control of their own alcohol use and understands their own personal limitations with it.
If and when marijuana use presents itself to law enforcement officers, I personally believe that there will be a new learning curve for each of us individually that chooses to partake. The user will need to learn how marijuana affects our bodies and what our tolerance is. Unfortunately we are not in a position as police officers, whether on duty or off duty, while in the public’s eye, to go through the mistakes and embarrassments associated with that learning curve.
It is my belief that there will be an increase in administrative investigations into law enforcement marijuana use initially because of this learning curve. I think that as officers better understand the drug and how it affects them there will be a decline in these types of investigations.
In summation, I believe that if and when the federal government removes marijuana from being a schedule 1 controlled substance that ultimately with the advance of research and technology, law enforcement officers will eventually accept marijuana use by their peers, just as they have with alcohol. I believe that administrative investigations will increase at the beginning of the accepted use and eventually they will taper off to equate to what we see now as the amount of alcohol-related administrative investigations.