Can New Jersey Cops Smoke Pot Off-Duty?

Stephen Andrews
18 Apr 2022

New Jersey prepares to launch legal marijuana sales a day after 4/20, the unofficial cannabis holiday. As part of the regulation, off-duty cops in the Garden State are reportedly allowed to smoke marijuana, just like any other employed adult person. Opponents fear that such a policy will result in police officers going to work while still impaired by marijuana. And then there's also federal law.

New Jersey's acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin issued a memo last week to the state's law enforcement agencies saying that NJ's cannabis legislation allows adults, including police officers, to use and purchase cannabis products and goods. 

Platkin wrote in the memo that the state's law enforcement agencies "may not take any adverse action against any officers because they do or do not use cannabis off duty." The acting attorney general said that the right of police officers to use cannabis is in line with the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Enforcement Assistance and Marketplace Modernization Act passed by state lawmakers in 2021. 

However, police officers are not allowed to possess or use any cannabis while on the job or when performing any task 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, according to Asbury Park Press who first reported on this development. "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."

New Jersey's cannabis legalization law contains provisions that allow employers to maintain a drug-free workplace for their employees. The legislation also foresees a plan of action for employers to take when an employee appears intoxicated during work hours, including a drug test and a physical examination test to confirm intoxication. 

Not Everyone Happy with Cops Smoking Weed

Critics have already come forward against the idea of cops consuming pot, even if this is something they (would) do in their free time. 

"Anyone who wants to work in public safety must be held to higher standards," said State Assemblywoman Beth Sawyer, reports the New Jersey Monitor.

She added: "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." 

The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act was signed into law in February 2021 by Governor Phil Murphy. Under the legislation, adult users can possess up to six ounces of cannabis. However, the legal retail of cannabis products has been pushed back while waiting for regulators to craft rules for legal statewide production and sales. 

While New Jersey's top prosecutor says police can purchase and use cannabis from licensed businesses as the market launches, workplace protections for this category of workers may result in further federal complications.

The federal government retains a policy prohibiting people who admit marijuana use from purchasing or possessing any firearms. The policy extends to police officers who carry guns and are subject to background checks. It's highly unlikely for a state-level law to supersede federal regulation.

new jersey cops can smoke weed, policy says.
The use of marijuana among New Jersey police officers may still infringe federal law.

Some Towns Attempt to Block Legal Sales

On Thursday, April 14, Gov. Murphy announced that recreational cannabis sales would commence with existing medical cannabis dispensaries a day after 4/20, the day which usually sees the most significant spike in sales of cannabis products nationwide. 

Sales would also be territorially limited. As many as 400 NJ municipalities allegedly opted out from legal retail, including places where upward 80% of voters supported legalization back in 2020. 

Online petitions urging officials to prohibit cannabis shops or enact restrictions to ensure dispensaries remain at a distance from schools have put pressure on municipal officials in recent weeks.

Anti-weed crusaders are active in Princeton, Pennington, Livingston, Verona, Northfield, Mahwah, and other towns. In some of these places, there have been public meetings to warn against the "drug's dangers." 

According to New Jersey Monitor, there was a wide range of support for the 2020 marijuana legalization referendum in some of these towns, such as 76% in Pennington and 52% in Mahwah. 

The referendum also passed with 84% of the vote in Hoboken, where city officials are revising limits on where cannabis can be sold. It follows after a group of residents objected to a cannabis shop planned on the first floor of a mixed-use residential building. 

"You can support legalization and decriminalization but not want it sold within the boundaries in your town," Hoboken Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher defended the planned new restriction, reports New Jersey Monitor.

Overall, opposers have made various complaints, including that weed "smells terrible," that it's "an addictive substance," and that pot shops "are uniquely attractive targets to criminals."

On the other hand, cannabis advocates attribute opposition to legal weed sales to "continuing stigma and frankly, a lot of misinformation." 

"I have heard these same arguments literally hundreds of times in towns across the region," says Chris Goldstein, a longtime activist with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law. 

He adds: "The reality of this reform process is that it acknowledges that there are millions of cannabis consumers out there consuming cannabis. And we've all been keeping it a secret, because otherwise the cops come with guns."

New Jersey Cannabis Reform Moves Forward 

Under NJ's cannabis laws and regulations, 30% of recreational marijuana licenses are bound to go to minorities groups, including women, veterans of war, and people of color. The state's Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) recently issued 68 conditional licenses, of which Black entrepreneurs received 33 and Latinos 9. 

In addition, state law dictates that 60% of tax collected from recreational retail will be allocated to so-called "Impact Zones," or areas hit the hardest by previous marijuana legislation. This percentage has been determined based on population, crime index, and the ratio of marijuana convictions. 

New Jersey authorities are also in the process of deleting the records of more than 360,000 people arrested on marijuana charges over the last few decades. The move would correct New Jersey's historical injustice, which involves arresting Blacks 3.5 times the rate of Whites for pot, although usage rates between the two groups are similar.

Gov. Murphy is due to address a clemency request made by non-profits, including the Last Prisoner Project, which concerns those who remain incarcerated for cannabis-related offenses. 

Stephen Andrews