Marijuana Legalization: What you need to know about the impacts on careers as first responders.

By Dr. Stephen Sherwin and Dr. Vesna Markovic

            January 1, 2020 marks the beginning of a new year; bringing new hopes, new goals, and new laws. Illinois legislators passed HB 1438 legalizing the consumption and sale of recreational marijuana for those over the age of 21. Leaving aside political or medical reasoning, the intent here is not to impose a subjective agenda or personal value regarding recreational marijuana use, but to discuss the implications for anyone entertaining thoughts of a profession in law enforcement, or other first responders. Even though Illinois and at least ten other states in the union have taken an independent position regarding the legality of marijuana, it still remains illegal federally. Marijuana is listed on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) drug classification as a Schedule I substance.

            The DEA defines schedule I drugs as those with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Although there are medical uses for marijuana, these are at the state level.  This means that according to the federal government you are still violating federal statutes on the possessing, buying or selling marijuana.  This includes products such as CBD (cannabidiol) oil. Even though states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, this does not apply to those who are planning on entering the criminal justice field as first responders. All departments have drug policies which prohibit the use of controlled substances to include marijuana. Although in recent years the use of marijuana has been more publicly acceptable, it is still considered a disqualifier for most law enforcement, EMT, and fire department positions.  This includes jobs at the local, county, state, and federal levels. Most hiring processes involve mandatory drug testing.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), for example, will not accept candidates who have used marijuana (to include CBD oils) in the last three years and disqualifies those who are regular or heavy users.           

            In the New Year, the state legalization of marijuana use can potentially create a dilemma for those thinking of going into the field.  Since the new law allows for open use of marijuana (with limitations), this amplifies the potential for exposure to those who choose to partake in its availability. If you find yourself at a party where marijuana is being used, you may ask yourself the question “should I stay, or should I go?” The question has great relevance regarding the use of marijuana for those who plan on going into the field. When exposed to those participating in its use, consumption or manufacturing the question becomes relative – should you stay, or should you go? The choice is yours, but remember the choices you make could compromise your goals of becoming a first responder if you choose to stay.

About Dr. Vesna Markovic

Dr. Vesna Markovic is Associate Professor and Chair of Justice, Law and Public Safety Studies at Lewis University. Her expertise includes Terrorism (Suicide Bombings, Financing Terrorism), Transnational and Organized Crime, Comparative Criminal Justice Systems

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *