TOMS RIVER — Ocean County sheriff’s officers are prohibited from using marijuana when off duty, despite a memo from acting New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin asserting that they can.
Sheriff Michael G. Mastronardy has informed his police unions that there will be “ramifications” if an officer is discovered to have violated the county policy, said Jack Kelly, director of the county Board of Commissioners. However, the sheriff has stopped short of threatening to terminate any employee who does so.
The policy was affirmed at a meeting of the commission last Wednesday, when Kelly read a statement from Mastronardy at the start of its public meeting.
“Marijuana, when consumed, stays in your system for 30 days and there are field tests to determine the level of marijuana intoxication,” Kelly said. “Additionally, federal law still classifies marijuana as an illegal ‘schedule 1’ drug.”
Controversially, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has included marijuana on its list of schedule 1 drugs since 1970. These are defined as substances or chemicals “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” The drugs on that list also include heroin, LSD, ecstasy and peyote.
Fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamines all have a lower risk classification on the federal government’s list — as schedule 2 drugs.
“As such, a law enforcement agency that allows its officers to consume marijuana may be ineligible for certain federal grants,” Kelly said. “The Ocean County sheriff and this Board of Commissioners will continue to follow the federal law.”
In a written statement, Platkin said that until the matter is settled law, the state Office of Attorney General regards the matter as an issue between employer and employee.
“As Acting Attorney General, public safety is my top priority, and I share concerns about how legal cannabis impacts the role of police in our State,” Platkin said in the statement. “As I explained in my memo to law enforcement chief executives last week, New Jersey’s law legalizing and regulating cannabis is clear and we are obligated to comply. I welcome conversations on how best to protect public safety.
“Any efforts by local governments to subject officers to additional requirements in the interim, however, may present employment law issues that we anticipate will be handled between those governments and officers in the appropriate course,” Platkin said.
Kelly said Friday that Mastronardy had “complete authority” to discipline his officers in the event any are found to have used marijuana.
Gov. Phil Murphy has signaled his openness to a ban on recreational cannabis use by law enforcement officers in the state. Mastronardy and the five-member, all-Republican county commission called on Murphy and the state Legislature last week to implement such a ban.
As sheriff, Mastronardy has campaigned against the legalization of recreational marijuana in New Jersey.
Last Thursday marked the first day most New Jersey adults could legally purchase marijuana recreationally.
Erik Larsen: 732-682-9359 or [email protected]