Would-be cops in Utah can use medical marijuana, but they’ll have to jump through some hoops

Sandy • You can use medical marijuana and cannabis products and still apply to be a police officer in Utah, but you’re going to have to show your use was legitimate and that the medicine was authorized under state law.

Utah police and the academy that trains them are trying to navigate the new world of medical marijuana and cannabis. The products were once verboten for anyone wanting to be a cop in the Beehive State. Even applicants to the academy had to disclose if they had ever used marijuana — legal or otherwise. No one could apply if he or she had used marijuana within the past two years.

On Tuesday, at the quarterly meeting of the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, Maj. Scott Stephenson, who directs the state’s police academy, explained how his staffers are treating the new era of limited medical marijuana. Applicants must still disclose any marijuana or cannabis usage.

If applicants have used a cannabis oil, they must specify the product, Stephenson said. Academy staffers then will check a list maintained by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food to see if the product is approved for consumption.

The list is not necessarily inclusive. If the product isn’t on that tally, Stephenson said, applicants then have the burden of showing the item is legal for use in Utah.

“Even if it’s not on the list,” Stephenson said, “but it fits in that criteria, they are not required to have a two-year wait to enter the academy.”

So far, he said, no applicant has been turned away for an unauthorized product, but there is one applicant who had a medical marijuana prescription from a Utah doctor that was filled in Nevada. Stephenson said the academy and that applicant are in the process of investigating whether the prescribed use and the product meet state laws and the rules for becoming a peace officer.

For now, Stephenson said, every applicant who discloses medical marijuana or cannabis use will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Stephenson’s staffers also investigate allegations of misconduct by peace officers on the job. He said they will follow the same process if they receive a complaint that an officer used an unapproved substance.

“I’m sure this is going to change as we go,” Stephenson told the POST Council, “because the law is not very clear.”

The council disciplined five current or former peace officers Tuesday. One of them, Luis Argueta, was convicted of misdemeanor assault earlier this year for punching a 16-year-old boy on State Street in Murray.

On June 13, the boy had been using spice and was unconscious. Argueta, then working for the Murray Police Department, smacked the teen on his cheek to wake him.

Body camera footage showed Argueta yelled “Hey, ---hole!” Argueta has alleged the 16-year-old regained consciousness and kicked him twice in the leg. That’s when Argueta punched the boy once in the face.

Argueta’s attorney, JC Jensen, told the council his client was worried about being pushed into traffic on State Street. He said Argueta was acting in self-defense.

“Only after he was kicked twice toward a busy roadway," Jensen said, “did he strike this individual once in the face.”

Argueta has appealed his conviction to state district court. Jensen on Tuesday asked the POST Council to postpone his client’s case until after the new trial in September. That way, Jensen said, Argueta would be free to answer the council’s questions about what happened June 13.

The council determined its rules required it to proceed. The council voted to suspend Argueta’s police certification for two years.

Argueta retired after being investigated for the punch but said Tuesday he would like to return to law enforcement. He worked with Murray police for 23 years, he said.

Jacob Mayne, who once worked for the Iron County Sheriff’s Office, had his law enforcement certification suspended for three years. An investigation found Mayne was fondling other office employees with whom he was having relationships, according to a presentation to the council. Investigators also found a sexting photo that appeared to show Mayne in a state of undress while working at the county jail.

Iron County fired Maybe in September. The suspension will prevent him from going to work for another law enforcement agency.

The council revoked the certification of Samuel Thomas. He was working for the Utah Department of Corrections when he, in jest, pushed the accelerator on a golf cart and directed it toward an inmate, according to a presentation to the council.

The cart didn’t stop in time and struck the inmate, causing him minor injuries. Thomas entered a plea in abeyance to a charge of reckless endangerment. The Utah Department of Corrections fired him in December.

Also disciplined Tuesday:

• Zachary Woodhead, a one-time cadet who never worked in law enforcement but is still subject to council discipline, received a two-year suspension for lying about marijuana use on his academy application.

• Morgan York, Utah Department of Corrections, received a three-month suspension for disorderly conduct.