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Seattle police recruits get a break on past pot use

By Jonathan Kaminsky

OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) - A month after Washington became the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use, the Seattle Police Department has relaxed its rules on previous pot use for job seekers.

Going forward, applicants must not have used marijuana for at least a year before joining the force, police officials said. Previously, the rule was no pot use for three years.

The change was spurred by Washington state's groundbreaking vote last month to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, Assistant Chief Jim Pugel said.

"We have to do a good job protecting the city, but we have to have a group of people who resemble the people we protect," Pugel said.

Statewide, marijuana legalization passed by 56 percent to 44 percent. In King County, where Seattle is located, it pulled nearly 64 percent support.

Pugel said the Department was considering a change before the new law passed, after a pair of otherwise strong applicants who had used marijuana within three years but not within the past 12 months had been automatically disqualified.

One was a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who had briefly been prescribed marijuana by a doctor for pain. Another was a former high-level college athlete who had smoked marijuana 20 months before applying.

Pugel said he is not aware of other Washington state police departments that have taken similar action.

Seattle police officers are still prohibited from using marijuana, whether on or off duty.

However, Washington state law prohibits random workplace drug tests, meaning that the department must have reasonable suspicion that an officer has used marijuana in order to have him or her tested.

"That goes for any controlled substance, whether it's legally allowed through a prescription or it's illegal," Pugel said. "We have to look at behavior and performance."

Whether the new rules will attract more applicants, Pugel said he doesn't know.

Pugel said the Department will hire between 85 and 100 new officers in 2013, from an expected pool of up to 4,500 applicants. The starting salary is $66,000, plus benefits.

"Plus you get to drive a fast car," Pugel added

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

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