A police chief in Maryland is standing up against county regulations, which requires that potential law enforcement applicants must abstain from cannabis use for at least three years before they can be considered for hire.
Police Chief Marcus Jones, who is based in Montgomery County, Maryland, told NBC Washington that the law is making it difficult to find new recruits. “I think in today’s environment, where we are with the legalization of cannabis, that has now restricted law enforcement agencies, particularly larger agencies, across the state,” Jones said.
Earl Stoddard, the Montgomery County Assistant Chief Administrative Officer, also commented on the irony of the issue. “Having a legal drug become a barrier to increasing law enforcement seems like it’s a bad policy,” Stodder said. “It’s a big issue now, but it’s going to become an increasingly large issue as more people who have consumed with legalization consider policing, they realize they’re ineligible, that’s when we expect to see a bigger drop-off in applications.”
Jones also leads the Fraternal Order of Police and is a member of the Montgomery County Council. In April 2023, he asked the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission to reevaluate its stance on the three-year cannabis rule, and it agreed that it would study for alternatives but hasn’t provided any updates since then.
Once Montgomery County officers are recruited, they are no longer allowed to consume cannabis in any form. However, this isn’t the case in other police departments. In Washington D.C., potential recruits are only required to have abstained from cannabis consumption for at least three months. In Fairfax County, located northwest of Washington D.C., there is no requirement for recruits to abstain from cannabis consumption.
According to NBC Washington, other unnamed “officials” are asking for “more local flexibility on marijuana use in the hiring process.” Currently, Montgomery County law enforcement is trying to fill 175 positions, which is proving to be difficult even with the $20,000 signing bonus for applicants who are eligible. For now, it’s planning to hire an outside firm to help boost recruiting.
Other states, such as New Jersey, have also made efforts to change existing regulations surrounding law enforcement and cannabis.
In February 2023, New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin released a revised drug testing policy that alleviates stress on police officers who want to consume cannabis while off duty. “Agencies must undertake drug testing when there is reasonable suspicion to believe a law enforcement officer is engaged in the illegal use of a controlled dangerous substance, or is under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance, including unregulated marijuana, or cannabis during work hours,” the text stated.
In 2021, a New Jersey law enforcement officer named Norhan Mansour was fired for testing positive for THC in 2021. The officer’s attorney, Peter Paris, defended the officer’s right to consume off duty in June 2023. “What Jersey City is doing is equivalent to terminating police officers because they had a beer off duty,” Paris said. “Except it’s worse because there is no constitutional right to drink beer, while there is a constitutional right in New Jersey to consume cannabis.” By August, Mansour had his job reinstated.
However, progress took a few steps back in New Jersey in October 2023 when the Jersey City Public Safety Director James Shea sued the Attorney General to block law enforcement officers from keeping their jobs if they consume cannabis. The lawsuit claims that anyone who consumes a controlled substance is prohibited from carrying a firearm. “Every citizen in the state of New Jersey has the right to use marijuana,” Shea said. “If one of our officers wants to do that, they could smoke as much as they want—they can no longer perform the duties of a police officer, and we will have to terminate them if we become aware.”
Adult-use cannabis sales began nearly two years ago in New Jersey in April 2022, but Maryland sales didn’t begin until July 2023. During its first week, Maryland collected $20 million in cannabis sales, and as of mid-January, the Maryland Cannabis Administration shows that the state has collected $787.5 million in adult-use sales between July-December 2023. Adult-use cannabis sales collected just $51 million in July, $104 million in August, $159 million in September, $214 million in October, $270 million in November, and $331 million in December.
Maryland medical cannabis sales are slowing down, which is a trend that has played out in other states as well. In July 2023, medical sales reached $285 million, followed by $324 million in August, $360 million in September, $395 million in October, $429 million in November, and $464 million in December.
As of Jan. 18, total year-to-date sales have risen to $796.3 million (which is a combined total of both adult-use and medical cannabis).
The most recent round of adult-use applicants submitted in December 2023 included more than 1,700 applications across all three license categories (cultivation, processing, and retail). According to the Maryland Cannabis Association Acting Director Will Tillburg, the state’s cannabis industry continues to thrive. “The large volume of applications submitted prior to yesterday’s deadline demonstrates the significant interest in the cannabis industry in Maryland,” Tillburg said last month. “It is also a testament to the comprehensive outreach and education efforts made by the administration and our partners at the Office of Social Equity to potential social equity applicants.”