State law allows police to consume marijuana when off duty, attorney general says

Betty Q. Hixson

With legal sales of recreational marijuana beginning potentially next week, acting Attorney General Matt Platkin has issued a memo to law enforcement leaders reminding them New Jersey law allows cops to light up when they’re off duty.

The memo makes clear police officers can consume marijuana legally purchased within the state while off duty, but specifies on-duty use can be cause for termination or other discipline.

“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 in the memo, which was sent to all law enforcement chief executives Wednesday. “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.”

The memo does not represent a change in policy or law. It informs authorities of provisions in the legislation that enabled the launch of the state’s legal market. Gov. Phil Murphy signed that bill into law in February 2021.

The law enabling New Jersey’s legal marijuana market bars any employer in the state from refusing to hire or fire or otherwise issue discipline because an employee consumes cannabis products. It does allow employers to bar drug and alcohol use at their place of business, and workers can be fired for being intoxicated during work hours.

Platkin’s memo was issued two days after the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which is responsible for standing up the state’s legal marijuana market, voted to allow 13 medical marijuana dispensaries to begin recreational marijuana sales.

Those dispensaries must still apply for and receive retail licenses. Murphy’s office announced Thursday the cannabis commission will issue the needed licenses starting Thursday, April 21.

Platkin’s memo was met with concern from at least one lawmaker. Assemblywoman Beth Sawyer (R-Gloucester) on Thursday said she worries the law could lead to impaired on-duty officers.

“Anyone who wants to work in public safety must be held to higher standards,” she said. “Our men and women in law enforcement have the responsibility to make life-altering decisions on a daily basis, for themselves, their partners, for the public. I want to trust that they are at their best when doing so.”

Other states have varied in their approaches on law enforcement marijuana use. Colorado allows its agencies to set its own rules. So does Arizona, where a handful of large agencies have barred their officers from using marijuana over concerns about federal law.

Marijuana, including medical marijuana, is still illegal federally. A federal law that bars those using illegal drugs from owning a firearm exempts firearms issued by a governmental agency.

State law allows police to consume marijuana when off duty, attorney general says

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This article is co-published with ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power, and with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system. Sign up for newsletters from ProPublica and The Marshall Project. Also, sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps […]