ATLANTA — Traditionally, anyone who has smoked marijuana wouldn't qualify to become a police officer. But as laws change across the country, Atlanta Police is taking a new approach and will no longer ask potential candidates if they’ve ever smoked pot.

“The use of, and attitude toward, both medical and recreational marijuana in the United States is rapidly evolving,” said Carlos Campos, director of public affairs for Atlanta Police. “Given the reality of this landscape, the Atlanta Police Department is increasingly encountering young applicants who are admitting to marijuana use, a question we have traditionally used to screen potential officers. The result is that we are eliminating candidates who are otherwise qualified to become police officers.”

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In 2017, the Atlanta City Council voted unanimously to decrease penalties for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, making the punishment more like a speeding ticket than criminal penalty within city limits. In Fulton County, those arrested for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana could face no jail time and a fine of no more than $75 under the change.

Statewide, a new bill in the Georgia House would allow the production and sale of medical marijuana oil within the state. The measure would allow patients who are already approved to possess low potency marijuana have access to the product. 

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Campos said the department does not tolerate marijuana use or any other drugs by department employees and officers are still required to undergo random drug testing. Campos said the department is doing more random drug testing now to ensure employee compliance.

There are currently 350 vacancies in the Atlanta Police Department, which has an authorized strength of 2,000 officers. The number of officers on the force has declined in the past five years, but Campos said recent changes could change the tide.

“We certainly believe the historic pay raise provided by Mayor Bottoms at the end of last year, and approved by the city council, will make a huge difference to recruit new officers and retain current ones,” Campos said.

According to Atlanta Police, 135 people have interviewed for the open positions and there have been four job fairs in 2019 already. Out of those candidates, Campos said 96 of the candidates were eligible to become Atlanta police officers and 39 have been suspended from the application process. 10 candidates were suspended for drug use other than marijuana, and 14 were suspended for past criminal issues.