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Utah's peace officer agency revises policies on drug use, juvenile criminal histories

Posted at 4:31 PM, Mar 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-31 19:46:50-04

SANTA CLARA, Utah — The agency that certifies and disciplines police officers in Utah is revising how it handles law enforcement use of prescription drugs and juvenile criminal histories.

At its quarterly meeting on Thursday, the Utah Peace Officer Standards & Training Council voted unanimously to adopt revised guidelines. One lifts some barriers for law enforcement who use medical cannabis to reflect recent laws passed by the Utah State Legislature. For example, a candidate to be an emergency dispatcher will no longer have to wait to be considered for a police academy if they're a legal medical cannabis card holder.

In 2018, Utah voters legalized medical cannabis and the legislature has insisted that it be treated like any other prescription drug. For police officers, however, there will remain a prohibition on medical cannabis use because POST believes it runs afoul of federal laws on guns and law enforcement.

"You have to wait a year before you can be eligible to be an officer. That includes marijuana because it’s still a Schedule 1 drug, even if you use it medicinally. There is no distinction between that, federally," said Major Scott Stephenson, the executive director for POST.

POST adopted similar guidance for prescription drug abuse in the past. The agency has seen cadets admit to using drugs like Adderall. Now, the agency will investigate if someone had a prescription and used it lawfully. If not, POST will consider any kind of punishment based upon guidance as if they were cited for it.

"We just elected to keep things consistent and go with the criminal charges as they would be identified," said Dr. Matthew Checketts, a licensed clinical social worker who serves on the POST Council.

The legislature has lowered the offenses for possession of certain drugs. Major Stephenson said police cadets would also have a waiting period before they could apply to be an officer based on that disclosure.

POST also modified how it handles youthful indiscretions. When purchasing new software, the agency realized that it was asking cadets if they have ever in their lives committed certain offenses. Under juvenile justice reforms, states have moved away from those kinds of disclosures so as to not have past mistakes follow people into adulthood.

"So rather than saying 'Have you ever,' it would say 'Beyond the age of 14 have you ever?' What would this look like?" asked Dr. Molly Sween, a POST Council member from Weber State University.

Major Stephenson said before age 14, it would not be considered — with exceptions for major crimes like murder, robbery, sexual assault and arson.

"There are some that should be forgivable because of circumstance and age," he told FOX 13 News. "While others? Just... we can’t commit those."

On Thursday, the POST Council disciplined nine officers from across the state for offenses ranging from falsifying records to DUI.