N.J. cops can't be punished for using legal weed off duty, attorney general says
A new memo warned police chiefs that they "may not take any adverse action" against officers who use cannabis off duty
By Suzie Ziegler
TRENTON, N.J. — Police officers in the Garden State can legally get high, so long as they’re not on the clock. That message came from acting New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin, who on Thursday issued a memo to police chiefs that they “may not take any adverse action against any officers because they do or do not use cannabis off duty,” the Ashbury Park Press reported.
Recreational marijuana became legal to consume and possess in New Jersey last year, but it hasn’t yet been available for purchase. That will change next week when a half-dozen medical marijuana dispensaries are expected to open to all adults over 21, reports the New York Times. According to the Ashbury Park Press, 13 medical marijuana dispensaries have been approved to sell weed to those without a medical marijuana card.
Officers are barred from using marijuana while they’re on duty.
"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 state’s new marijuana legalization laws give employers the right to maintain a drug-free workplace and outline procedures for suspected drug use on the job, according to the report. If an officer is suspected of being high or using marijuana on duty, the officer could be required to take a drug test, Platkin said in his memo. The drug test must also include a physical examination because THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, can stay in the body for weeks.
Police1 readers respond
I am not a fan of a police officer using marijuana, legal or not. I was also against the legalization of marijuana; did we really need another legal drug out there that tells our children it is OK to use? Regardless, the law is the law and I took an oath to uphold it. My only question to those police officers' comments that are demonizing those who think officers off duty should be allowed to use marijuana is, "Should we ban police officers from using alcohol off duty also?" Any one of us from a large department probably knows someone at their department who has taken their life while under the influence of alcohol, got arrested for drunk driving, or committed an assault while intoxicated, DV related or not. I get it, we have enough issues with alcohol abuse, and potentially prescription drugs if I had to guess, that we really don't need to give officers another vice for their off-duty toolbox of coping. What every police department does need is a robust officer wellness program, something we have embraced at my department. With that, we may be less concerned if they are allowed to responsibly use marijuana and alcohol, knowing we are giving them the tools to cope with the demons police work throws at us.
The results of your recent poll on police officer use of marijuana are disturbing, to say the least. Studies have shown long-term use of cannabis has debilitating effects on the user. Police officers need to be “on their game” at all times. Frequently officers find themselves observing criminal activity while off-duty. Being mentally impaired could well be a life-ending situation. Being high could be catastrophic! What’s really disturbing is the result of your poll showing 60% of the responders think it would be OK for LEOs to use cannabis!
Pot is still a federal offense, a schedule 1 drug. This dehumanizing and insulting standard to a profession that is supposed to be “above the law” is going down a dark path that a democratic society cannot afford to travel. This is my 2 cents as a cop who served for 38 years in a profession that is under attack like no other time in history.
Unless I missed something, using marijuana is still AGAINST FEDERAL LAW, so NO officer should be using it. Even if it becomes legal federally, it doesn’t change the fact that marijuana has both short-term and especially long-term negative effects on the human brain. Just because something is made legal, DOESN’T make it SAFE for us. It’s sad that as I teach fifth graders this as part of the D.A.R.E. Program, there are adults out there working as police officers that don’t understand that.
As police officers, we should hold ourselves to a higher standard and not set a poor example for the public. As my mother used to say many years ago, “If everyone else jumps off a cliff, are you going to jump off too?” When we as police officers, who are often looked at as role models by society, start to “take the jump” too, ALL of society is going to eventually end up at the bottom of the cliff. Well, not all, because I’m NOT jumping!
One consideration that no one is discussing is, what if the spouse wants to smoke marijuana? Does an officer have to move out of their home to avoid secondhand smoke? Can a spouse keep marijuana in the home while firearms are present? What if an officer tests positive for drug screening due to secondhand smoke? My opinion is, that at this point in history, where marijuana consumption is socially acceptable, it’s either legal for all or no one. Where is the ACLU? Isn’t this a violation of civil liberties to regulate someone’s off-duty consumption of a legal product?
The recent decision by New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin to allow active-duty New Jersey officers the right to smoke marijuana is an incredibly poor decision that will have vast ramifications and will undermine individual officers, departments and the law enforcement profession going forward. As the chief law enforcement officer of the State of New Jersey, the AG has the authority to issue a directive preventing off-duty officers from consuming marijuana. The directive can serve as a stop-gap measure pending legislation addressing the issue. In the interest of public safety, this directive needs to be issued immediately.
As a recognized police policy and procedures expert in multiple states, including New Jersey, it is my opinion that this decision does not appear to have been well thought out. There is no plan in place to address certain scenarios that are bound to occur. I believe marijuana should be legal and individuals (with exceptions) should have the right to consume marijuana in the privacy of their homes. However, I do not believe law enforcement officers should have this right.
Police officers have extraordinary powers and are faced with life and death situations every day. With every action and decision an officer faces or makes will now come the question: Was the officer under the influence of marijuana when he or she took action? The main ingredient in marijuana is THC. Depending on the test conducted, marijuana can be detected via a drug test anywhere from 3 days to 90 days. Let’s say an off-duty officer consumes marijuana before going to bed. Six to eight hours later the officer wakes up and reports for duty. One hour into his or her shift they get involved in a fatal police shooting, or while responding to an emergency call, they get into an accident and there is a fatality. As part of a normal investigation, the investigating officers will request a blood and alcohol test. The test results will show the officer had THC in his or her system. Now the question is: What effect did the THC have on the officer’s decision-making ability?
Defense attorneys and plaintiff’s attorneys will use this issue to undermine and cast doubt on every decision the officer made. This will lead to juries acquitting guilty parties and agencies and municipalities forced into large settlements that will cost taxpayers.
The AG's decision places all departments and individual officers in a legal liability nightmare. How does a department handle a citizen complaint of an officer under the influence? A citizen reports to IA that Officer Smith showed up at his home yesterday on a call for service and Officer Smith was high. The officer admits he or she consumed marijuana the night before. There is no disputing that the officer had THC in his or her system while on the call; the only question is, was the officer still feeling the effects of the THC?
What if an officer needs to testify in federal court or any other court? Under federal law, marijuana is still considered an illegal narcotic. The defense attorney questions the officer about his/her own personal use of marijuana and the officer acknowledges he or she has consumed marijuana off duty. The officer has opened himself/herself to intense cross-examination that can impact the officer’s credibility. When a jury considers an officer’s testimony, they consider such things as character and conduct. It certainly will not sit well with some members of a jury that an officer on the stand consumes what the federal government and law classify as illegal.
If the AG refuses to issue a state directive stopping officers from using marijuana off duty, then our state elected leaders need to step in and take immediate action to stop this insanity.
Retired D/Chief of Police Union City
Former Criminal Justice Adjunct Professor
Recognized police policy and procedures expert
I suffer from PTSD related to police work. I also have awful arthritis and body pain. After leaving police work early due to the fallout of these physical and mental ailments, I turned to medical marijuana. It ended up being the one therapeutic solution for all these issues, and more (digestive and sleep issue resolution was also a pleasant surprise). There is no question, police officers should absolutely be afforded the opportunity to use it. How many cops have alcohol issues, admitted or not? Alcohol is devastating to the police community. Marijuana would be a most welcomed, 100% safe alternative. It's time we realize this and legalize it. Get these guys to retirement healthy and let them enjoy life during and after law enforcement.
- Active LEOs should not use marijuana off duty if allowed by state law. This opens up such a plethora of bad optics and without a doubt a thousand-fold increase in officer complaints after the fact. A lie about an officer smelling of weed by someone who was arrested/got a ticket will become the norm. The optics will be horrendous as the officer will have to go to IA, take a UA, write a report, and PIO will be forced to address the issue to a never-understanding public. Any graduate of law school who passes the bar has got to be salivating at the chance to place innuendo and doubt in an officer’s credibility if they answer, “Yes, I smoke weed on my days off.” How does the jury/Judge truly know if the officer was “drug-free” at the time of the contact with the defendant? Marijuana is a gateway drug. We are all taught that at the academy. What constitutes intoxication? At what point does an officer have to stop smoking or eating edibles prior to a shift? Two hours? Four? Eight? Twenty-four? This is a HUGE mistake.