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Medical marijuana rules unclear for First Responders

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

CBS 5 Investigates found very few agencies in Arizona have direct policies preventing first responders from obtaining medical marijuana cards.

Jay Fleming spent 15 years as a cop. Most of that time working undercover in narcotics. He didn't think much of drug dealers or users.

"They were the lowest of society, no one cared," said Jay Fleming, who now lives in Nolan Springs, Arizona. "If one killed another - great - another doper out of the scene. And that was pretty much the attitude back them. If they killed each other off, who cared?"

But these days he spends most his time smoking pot. And as a medical marijuana card holder, he's not doing anything illegal.

"I used to get these shooting electrical pains in my feet and now that I use medical marijuana I don't get that," said Fleming.

Fleming is among a select group of police, judges, prosecutors and DEA agents that believe drugs should be legalized. They are members of the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP.

But more specifically, Fleming believes any police officer, firefighter or medic should be allowed to have a medical marijuana card and use marijuana to manage pain, when not on duty or on-call. His stance is highly controversial.

Now two years after Arizona voters approved marijuana for medical purposes, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves admitted the DPS still does not have a policy.

"I think all law enforcement in Arizona is struggling with this to kind of deal with it," Graves said.

Graves said DPS defers to federal law when its officers are involved.

"It's difficult, that's probably why it's taken us a long time to work on this policy," said Graves.

CBS 5 Investigates found that DPS is not alone. Most agencies across the state do not have policies, including in Phoenix, Glendale, Tempe, Peoria and Mesa. CBS 5 Investigates found only three with specific policies.   

Gilbert Fire Department allows employees to have medical marijuana cards, but may reassign or put the employee on paid leave. 

Yuma does allow city employees, including fire fighters and EMTs, to use medical marijuana - as long as it is off-duty.  

The only agency with a clear cut policy prohibiting officers from having medical marijuana cards is the Chandler Police Department.

"This is cut and dry," Chandler Sgt. Joe Favazzo said. "It's an illegal substance. It will not be tolerated by our department. There's no place in law enforcement for the use or possession of a Schedule 1 drug that is illegal by federal standard, which marijuana is."

Sgt. Joe Favazzo said developing the policy was a no brainer. Officers are sworn to uphold state and federal laws.

"If you have to use medications to get through your day for pain you probably shouldn't be at work if you're a firefighter or police officer," said Favazzo.

But for guys like Jay Fleming that have lived with pain, he believes medical marijuana could extend an officer or firefighters career.

"When they are at home and off I think they should be able to take care of their pain," Fleming said.

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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