Now that marijuana use has been decriminalized under Washington state law under Initiative 502, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) is softening its restrictions on past pot use by men and women applying to be police officers.
“We are changing our policy as a direct result of the recent vote on I-502,” says Assistant Chief Jim Pugel, who oversees marijuana-related issues for SPD.
Last week, SPD Chief John Diaz tasked Assistant Chiefs Pugel and Dick Reed with reviewing SPD’s hiring practices to reflect the changes brought on by I-502, while continuing the department’s mission of finding the best candidates to not only protect our city, but also reflect the city SPD protects.
Until this week, SPD applicants were immediately disqualified if they had smoked marijuana within three years of applying to the department.
The department is now changing the restriction from three years to one year, and will reevaluate other marijuana-related hiring policies over the next year. “We are deciding to take a much more worldly view of our applicants,” Pugel says
These changes make the Seattle Police Department is the first law enforcement agency in the state to relax its hiring practices in light of I-502.
“In light of the changing cultural and political landscape, the three-year rule does not make sense,” says Reed, who oversees hiring for the department. “We’re trying to find a middle ground that doesn’t exclude viable candidates.”
While this certainly a big procedural shift for the department, Reed says it’s “not often” that an applicant is disqualified for a job with SPD because of marijuana use. Reed estimates that out of the last round of applications in November, “less than 5” applicants out of the nearly 500 that applied were disqualified over pot.
While the department is easing restrictions on past pot use, the department will continue to closely scrutinize applicants’ backgrounds—including other drug use—during the department’s rigorous hiring and testing process.
“We’re on the forefront of change,” Reed says. “There is still a lot more to reevaluate.”