Off-duty New Jersey cops will be allowed to smoke legal weed thanks to marijuana law
TRENTON, N.J. – Police officers in The Garden State will be allowed to purchase and use marijuana just like anyone else — but only when they're off-duty.
New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin issued a memo Thursday alerting police chiefs that law enforcement agencies "may not take any adverse action against any officers because they do or do not use cannabis off duty," once it's officially and legally for sale in the state.
Gov. Phil Murphy signed off on a bill last year making marijuana legal in the state. Since then, the state has worked to regulate the drug as dispensaries applied to sell it legally.
Police officers are and will continue to be barred from possessing or using marijuana while on the clock, or performing any work while under the influence.
"To be clear, there should be zero tolerance for cannabis use, possession or intoxication while performing the duties of a law enforcement officer," Platkin said. "And there should be zero tolerance for unregulated marijuana consumption by officers at any time, on or off duty, while employed in this state.
"The safety of our communities and our officers demands no less."
Platkin's memo comes three days after the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission approved 13 medical marijuana dispensaries to begin selling legal weed to any adult over 21 years old, even those without a medical marijuana card.
Legal weed sales can't begin until a location has been inspected and issued a license. That's yet to occur at any of the 13 dispensaries.
Until those sales occur, New Jersey remains in a gray area: Marijuana is legal to possess and consume, but it's illegal to buy or sell. That hasn't stopped many marijuana consumers over the last 14 months.
The marijuana legalization laws allow any employer to maintain a drug-free workplace, and puts into place procedures for suspected drug use while on the job.
Platkin's memo reminds police chiefs they have the same rights.
"Should there be reasonable suspicion of an officer's use of cannabis while engaged in the performance of their duties, or upon finding any observable signs of intoxication related to cannabis use (including following a work-related accident subject to investigation by the agency), that officer may be required to undergo a drug test," Platkin said.
But that drug test must accompany a physical examination as well, as tetrahydrocannabinol — or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — can stay in the bloodstream for weeks.
A positive drug test could mean the police officer smoked a joint on the way to the station, or ate a cannabis-infused gummy at an off-duty barbecue a month ago.
But unlike other jobs, law enforcement officers are subject to federal regulations as well. And marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, even medically.
In September 2011, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives issued a memo overtly stating that firearms licenses cannot be issued or sold to any "unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled dangerous substance," even if that person is a card-carrying medical marijuana patient in their home state.
For the past decade, regulators in numerous states have pointed to that ATF memo as the reason police officers couldn't become medical marijuana patients.
Recreational marijuana use, in states that legalized weed, has been seen as falling under the same guidelines.
But the federal firearms statutes do include an exception for firearms "issued for the use of the United States or any department or agency thereof or any state or department, agency or political subdivision thereof."
The ATF did not immediately return a request for comment or clarification.