Should NJ cops be able to use weed when off duty?
🔺 Should NJ police officers be able to use weed off-duty?
🔺 A judge's ruling sets up a showdown over NJ's cannabis laws
🔺 This has been controversial from the start of legal weed sales in NJ
A precedent-setting ruling was handed down by a judge last week that could determine if police officers can use marijuana on their own time.
When legislation permitting the legal sale of marijuana for adult recreational use was signed into law in 2021, questions immediately arose about whether businesses could prohibit their employees for using it.
New Jersey’s Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization (CREAMM) Act permitted businesses to create a drug-free workplace but prohibited a business from firing a worker who used cannabis on their own time, as long as they did not come to work impaired.
Impact to law enforcement
This was a particularly thorny issue for law enforcement and questions lingered for months.
A week before legal sales began on April 21, 2022, the acting Attorney General Matt Platkin issued a memo saying CREAMM did apply to police officers, and they could not be terminated if they used cannabis on personal time.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fullop strongly disagreed with that directive. A day before legal sales began, Fullop announced Jersey City police officers would be banned from using any cannabis product even on personal time. Officers that tested positive, Fullop said, would be fired.
That is just what happened.
Police Officer Norhan Mansour was terminated in March 2023, after a positive test. Three additional officers are also facing termination.
It was never alleged that Mansour was under the influence of weed while on the job, only that he had used cannabis at some point as revealed by a mandatory drug test.
Mansour sued, and now an administrative law judge has issued an expansive ruling declaring wrongful termination.
Jersey City sought to justify its zero-tolerance policy by citing a federal law that prohibits cannabis users from carrying a firearm. They also cited federal law that still classifies cannabis as an illegal controlled substance.
The Jersey City Times noted the judge rejected both arguments in a 13-page decision that says Jersey City cannot enforce federal law to the exclusion of its obligations under New Jersey state law.
The judge has ordered Mansour to be reinstated. At least two other Jersey City officers are facing dismissal for cannabis use.
Fullop has not commented on the ruling, but Jersey City is likely to appeal.
This is believed to be the first legal case surrounding the New Jersey AG's directive on cannabis use by law enforcement.
The appeal process could carry this issue all the way to the Supreme Court.
Controversial from the start
Even before legal sales of recreational cannabis products began in New Jersey, there was controversy about its use by law enforcement.
When AG Platkin issued his memo, there were calls from several state lawmakers to amend state statutes to prohibit cannabis use by police.
Gov. Phil Murphy said he was open to the idea of a police ban on weed use.
Democratic state Sen. Paul Sarlo said he would introduce such a bill.
However, Senate President Nick Scutari, D-Union, immediately shot down the idea. Scutari was the prime sponsor of the bill to legalize recreational marijuana use.
"You open up this box where you start regulating people’s behavior when they’re on their own time — I think that’s a very dangerous, slippery slope, that I’m not willing to go down," Scutari said at the time.
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