N.J. lawmaker who can block bills opposes weed ban for off-duty cops

“You start regulating people’s behavior when they’re on their own time — I think that’s a very dangerous slippery slope"


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By Brent Johnson
nj.com

TRENTON, N.J. — Not long after Gov. Phil Murphy suggested he’s “open-minded” to barring police officers in the state from getting high while off duty, New Jersey’s highest-ranking state lawmaker said he’s against the idea.

“You open up this box where you start regulating people’s behavior when they’re on their own time — I think that’s a very dangerous slippery slope that I’m not willing to go down,” state Senate President Nicholas Scutari, D- Union, said during a public event Monday night at Rowan University in Glassboro, according to a report by Politico New Jersey.

Scutari’s support would be needed to make such a change. Both the state Senate and Assembly would need to pass a bill before Murphy could sign it into law. And Scutari — the leading lawmaker who pushed to make pot legal in New Jersey — controls which measures come up for a vote in the Senate.

New Jersey State Senate President Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, is pictured in January 2022.
New Jersey State Senate President Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, is pictured in January 2022. (Aristide Economopoulos)

A spokesman for Scutari confirmed the remarks on Tuesday but declined further comment.

The comments came as legal weed sales are set to begin in New Jersey for the first time Thursday. Seven dispensaries will open for sales at 13 locations, a year and a half after voters in the state approved legalizing marijuana in 2020.

Last week, state Attorney General Matthew Platkin said in a memo that off-duty police officers in New Jersey are permitted to consume cannabis products and should not face discipline for doing so under the state’s legal marijuana law.

But some lawmakers, from both major political parties, have expressed worry about that, arguing that marijuana stays in peoples’ systems longer and it’s harder to track whether someone is currently under the influence.

Murphy said Monday the state will not allow “anybody to show up impaired, whether you’re drinking or whether you’ve smoked weed”

“Anybody who shows up impaired would be dealt with aggressively,” the governor said.

But he added: “Would I be open-minded to a legislative fix that would address this? The answer is yes.”

Murphy was asked after an unrelated event Tuesday in Paterson if he’s also open to barring all first responders — including firefighters and EMTs — from consuming weed off duty.

[RELATED: Policing in an Era of Legal Marijuana: Cops' opinions on decriminalization, incarceration & more]

“If there’s any reasonable steps in all of the above that come my way, am I open minded in considering that? Absolutely,” he responded. “I’ll just leave it at that.”

State Sen. Paul Sarlo, D- Bergen, said last week he disagrees with allowing off-duty police officers to smoke marijuana.

“Let me be clear the directive is a product of the law that was enacted,” Sarlo tweeted. “I am hopeful we can modify the law to match all the other states that have zero tolerance for use of off duty cannabis by police.”

State Assemblywoman Beth Sawyer, R- Gloucester, said “anyone who wants to work in public safety must be held to higher standards.”

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