Utah lifts waiting period for dispatcher candidates who have smoked marijuana

The state agency that sets the rules for people to apply to become police officers and dispatchers voted Thursday to eliminate the one-year waiting period for those who want to become dispatchers who have legally used marijuana in the past year.

The state agency that sets the rules for people to apply to become police officers and dispatchers voted Thursday to eliminate the one-year waiting period for those who want to become dispatchers who have legally used marijuana in the past year. (Mircea Moira, Shutterstock)

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SANDY — People who have legally used marijuana in the past will no longer have to wait a year to apply to become an emergency dispatcher in Utah.

Those seeking to become a police officer, however, will still have to wait.

On Thursday, in response to the growing challenges law enforcement agencies across the state are seeing in trying to hire dispatchers and officers, and the growing usage of marijuana in the public, the agency that sets the rules for becoming a certified police officer or dispatcher in Utah voted to eliminate the waiting period for people wanting to apply to Peace Officer Standards and Training to become dispatchers who have legally used marijuana.

All officers and dispatchers must be certified by Peace Officer Standards and Training. But before they can apply for the police academy, they must be marijuana-free for a year — even if they used it for medical purposes or in a state where recreational marijuana is legal. A person can apply either one year after they last used marijuana or one year after their medical card expired.

On Thursday, during the Peace Officer Standards and Training council's quarterly meeting, Maj. Scott Stephenson, director of the agency, brought up for discussion the challenges many police departments are seeing in hiring, especially with the growing prevalence of marijuana usage. He said the state is getting applicants from many out-of-state people, including from places where recreational use of marijuana is legal. Discussions about Utah's marijuana laws and recruitment have been brought up before.

The council unanimously voted on Thursday to eliminate the one-year waiting period for people who have used marijuana who want to become dispatchers.

But Stephenson said for people who want to enter the academy to become a police officer, the rule is still the same.

"Cops still have the waiting period because of federal law," he said. "We have to honor federal law. We're seeing an increased frequency in usage, and therefore we have to hold to the law and be responsible to the federal law."

Officers cannot carry a gun if they use marijuana according to federal law, Stephenson said. Since dispatchers do not carry guns as part of their job, the yearlong wait was eliminated. For the waiting period to be eliminated for law enforcers, Stephenson said the federal government would have to declassify marijuana.

Marijuana isn't the only drug causing a problem with recruitment. Stephenson said an increasing number of people who are just graduating from college and want to get involved in law enforcement are being forced to wait because they took Adderall at some point during their college years.

Adderall, an amphetamine, is a schedule II drug. Under the state agency's guidelines, a person has to wait four years starting from the day he or she last took the drug before applying for the academy — even if they only took the drug once.

The council on Thursday voted to form a subcommittee to further explore the issue. Even though Adderall usage has also become more frequent, Stephenson said the problem would be making rules for one schedule II drug but not applying those same rules to another similar drug.

"It opens us up to litigation, because if you are going to argue for one drug why can't you argue for another?" he said. "That's the quandary I find myself in, trying to hold the line and find that balance between getting positions filled, serving the community, and still having a standard that the public expects us to uphold."

Also during Thursday's meeting, the council voted on whether to change the physical fitness standards each officer is required to meet in order to become certified. All cadets — regardless of age — are required to meet the same physical standards, such a doing a certain number of pushups and planking for a certain amount of time. Officers only need to pass those requirements once in their careers. Stephenson said the requirement that typically is the most challenging to pass is running 1.5 miles in under 15 minutes.

A local law enforcement agency recently raised the issue with Stephenson, arguing that older, veteran officers who want to transfer to Utah from another state sometimes have a hard time passing those tests.

Stephenson raised the issue Thursday, but the council voted to keep the physical requirements as they are. The council noted that for more veteran officers looking to move to Utah, there is an alternative test, but only after they have attempted the standard test twice and failed. Additionally, many agencies require their own physical fitness tests on a regular basis, even if the state test only has to be done once.

The council also voted on disciplinary action for officers who were found to have violated Peace Officer Standards and Training standards. The council is comprised of police chiefs, sheriffs and citizens from across the state. Their discipline can range from a letter of condemnation to revoking an officer's certification. Once a certification is revoked, that person can never reapply to become a police officer in Utah again.

Disciplinary action was taken against 11 people Thursday, the majority of whom have since resigned or were fired from their departments. Five officers had their certifications revoked for offenses that include stalking, domestic violence, unauthorized access of the police database to check on people dating an officer's estranged wife, and for becoming drunk and disorderly while off duty on multiple occasions.

One woman received a two-year suspension for lying about her prior marijuana usage. The woman, who said she used a vape pen at a party, intentionally left her prior marijuana usage off of her application to be certified, knowing at the time she would not have been able to get a job as a dispatcher.

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Pat Reavy is a longtime police and courts reporter. He joined the KSL.com team in 2021, after many years of reporting at the Deseret News and KSL NewsRadio before that.


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