Can cops smoke weed? NJ police divided on off-duty marijuana use
A dividing line may be forming in the law enforcement community over the use of marijuana.
The debate kicked up days before the sale and use of recreational marijuana became legal with a memo from acting state Attorney General Matt Platkin. He issued a reminder to police chiefs and directors that they "may not take any adverse action against any officers because they do or do not use cannabis off duty.”
Gov. Phil Murphy hedged on Platkin's statement and indicated he was "open-minded" to talking about putting a ban on police use. Murphy said if there were "reasonable steps" to banning cannabis use for police and all first responders, he would "absolutely" consider it.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis issued statements that members of their respective Hudson County cities would lose their jobs for partaking on their own time.
Kearny Mayor Al Santos and Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner told NJ.com that they want the state to issue guidelines clarifying police use.
New Jersey Senate President Nick Scutari, D-Union, called regulating people's behavior when they are on their own time a "very dangerous slippery slope" and one he was "not willing to go down."
Following the highest law enforcement officer in the state
Pat Colligan, president of the state's largest police union, supports Platkin in allowing his members to use it.
"I will defer to the chief law enforcement officer in the state of New Jersey, the attorney general. For Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis to say they're not going to follow the law is pretty interesting," Colligan told New Jersey 101.5. "They'll pull the Constitution. We don't really get to pick which laws we want and which laws we don't want. That's not the way the mayor should work."
Colligan said he has spoken to Joe Cossolini, the president of the Jersey City police union, the Police Officers Benevolent Association. If it comes down to it, such as a member being fired, they will go to court.
"We are also asking our officers to hold off until we have clarity on when the new drug tests come in and new policy comes out. We don't want anyone to be the test case," Colligan said.
Colligan said that before the pandemic, he was working to get the state to allow his members who were on long-term disability, long-term comp or terminally ill to be able to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. The pandemic sidetracked further meetings and discussions.
When the referendum question came up in 2019 Colligan said the union didn't take a position.
"They make the laws and we follow them," Colligan said. "It's hard to ignore the 67% of New Jersey citizens who wanted it. I guess we're more for it than against it but we took no position on it."
The PBA called for the law to be passed after Murphy signed it when it made it illegal for police to make an arrest for marijuana or alcohol use based on appearance or smell. The Legislature eventually signed a "clean up bill" that adjusted much of the law.
The Schedule 1 problem
Colligan said his union's lawyers are still how the fact that marijuana is a Schedule 1 federal drug squares with Platkin. There's no question on that issue for Ocean County Sheriff Mike Mastronadry, who said it goes beyond use by police.
"Because marijuana is still classified as illegal under federal law, any agency that allows its officers to use the drug could be ineligible to receive certain federal grants," Mastronardy and Ocean County Commissioner Jack Kelly, both Republicans, said in a joint statement. “The Ocean County Sheriff will continue to follow federal law."
The Ocean County Board of Commissioners called for Murphy and the Legislature to review Platkin's statement
"Put the safety of our citizens and law enforcement community first and address the issue of recreational cannabis use by law enforcement officers," Mastronadry and Kelly said.
A group of Republican lawmakers also pointed out that marijuana users are prohibited by the federal government from buying or possessing guns.
“Though we strongly question the wisdom of encouraging officers to use marijuana while off-duty, we are most troubled by the inevitable consequences of this policy for municipal and county governments, which go beyond the potential loss of federal contracts or funding,” they wrote.
At least two more mayors in Hudson County have joined the list who will not allow police officers to use legal marijuana on their own time.