"And if you've smoked any weed, had a joint in college, whatever -- tell us the truth! This will not adversely affect you, it's most important to us that you tell us the truth."
There were two officers at the front of the LAPD Reserve Officer Orientation. The Reserve Officer program was unpaid volunteer police work. You'd get a small stipend for equipment, and "intense paramilitary-style training" as they described it.
I was excited to protect and serve. It was 2009, and I didn't have much to do after the financial crash wiped everything out. So, I was becoming a reserve police officer. I was thinking I could help out in detective work, I like figuring things out. Or riot duty.
I liked the orientation, and I filled out the required background application. There were questions to tick off, something like this:
Marijuana .............. Multiple times in last year [ ] Once in last year [ ] Multiple times in lifetime [ ] Once in lifetime [ ] Never [ ]
Hashish ................ Multiple times in last year [ ] Once in last year [ ] Multiple times in lifetime [ ] Once in lifetime [ ] Never [ ]
Cocaine ................ Multiple times in last year [ ] Once in last year [ ] Multiple times in lifetime [ ] Once in lifetime [ ] Never [ ]
Barbituates ............ Multiple times in last year [ ] Once in last year [ ] Multiple times in lifetime [ ] Once in lifetime [ ] Never [ ]
Halucinogens ........... Multiple times in last year [ ] Once in last year [ ] Multiple times in lifetime [ ] Once in lifetime [ ] Never [ ]
Marijuana and hash? A few times in lifetime.
Hallucinogens? Once in lifetime.
Cool, I should be good... I don't even drink, I'm the most sober person I know.
I put down my references, employment history, whatever, and clicked submit on the webpage.
And the computer spits out -
REJECTED: YOU ARE PERMANENTLY BANNED FROM CALIFORNIA EMERGENCY SERVICES.
I called a case officer.
"Hey officer, pardon me for being blunt, but what the heck is going on? I had mushrooms once in Amsterdam, but I'm one of the most sober people I know. I don't even drink, haven't even had a drink in three years."
"It's the hallucinogens... flashbacks, you know? It's a liability thing. You can't be part of any emergency service."
"I wasn't sure about it, I just marked it and figured I'd mention it on the form so I was honest for the polygraph, and could explain it."
"I didn't have LSD or acid or anything. I don't think mushrooms even generate flashbacks. I just marked it because, y'know, the recruiting officer said to be honest."
"Okay son..." he started gently. He pauses, he's obviously thinking. "Did you, umm, fill it out on paper, or online?"
There's a pause. It sounds like he's frowning on the other end of the phone.
And he speaks, "...well, then there's nothing we can do."
I thought about reaching out to then-Governor Schwarzenegger for an exemption, but I let it go. I probably would have had a different life trajectory if I'd been accepted, I probably wouldn't have left California a few months later.
I've since spoken to a number of police officers, soldiers, and other servants of the public in intelligence, security, and emergency services.
You're expected to lie on certain things.
I think they see you as a liability if you don't lie. Things are often off-track a little bit, but if you open up about all of it you can really screw up people's lives.
At least, that's my working theory. If I apply for civil, military, police, or intelligence services again, I'm going to write what they expect to see on the application. If they wind up digging around and seeing this blog post, well, you want to tell me with a straight face that that's not the way the world works?