NJ State PBA President Opens Up About Off-duty Police Using Legal Weed
Now that recreational marijuana is legal in New Jersey, a hot topic has been whether or not police officers should be allowed to get high on their day off.
Acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin said in a memo to police departments that the state law does not exempt police officers from being able to use marijuana off-duty now that it is legal.
He said that’s the letter of the law, not a policy position.
Governor Murphy says he's open-minded to changing those rules to effectively bar police from using on their day off.
Jersey City, Weehawken, Bayonne, and Woodland Park already have. So where do we go from here?
When all is said and done, it's going to have to be worked out with the NJSPBA and its president, Pat Colligan, who put out a memo to their members urging "patience please". The memo is included at the bottom of this article.
"There are a few issues that have to be ironed out. We've asked our members to hold off until they're cleared up. The most important issue is that the attorney general's office hasn't come out with its new guidelines for drug testing so technically if I was to test positive for cannabis tomorrow I would still be placed on the national drug registry and still have the probability of termination in my department."
"So we're waiting for those rules, we understand they're pretty close and the other important issue is the cannabis regulatory commission is supposed to come up with WIRE guidelines which stand for Workplace Impairment Recognition Expert."
"Each employer is supposed to have access to one and they haven't even drawn up the rules or regulations of qualifications on how WIRE is supposed to work."
"So we're just saying if you want to partake in cannabis, we suggest you hold off until those safeguards are put into place."
You would think they would have already had this all in place before they rolled out legalized recreational marijuana, but this is New Jersey. I asked Colligan how he personally felt about legalized recreational marijuana.
"Personally if I was going to use I probably would wait until I retire," says Colligan. "It's difficult because I have almost 30 years in and I spent 29 of them going after people with marijuana. Not targeting them, but arresting people with marijuana then suddenly I get that call two weeks ago from the attorney general saying 'hey it's legal for your members and we're putting out a memo to the chiefs association' so it's kind of an odd place to be, but somebody was in that place when prohibition ended."
Colligan discussed possible legislation and possibly being singled out
"It's also difficult," Colligan continues. "I know there are a lot of legislators trying to get on some legislation. You know there are people that are smoking right now that are going to go design a bridge tomorrow or a high-rise or place explosives in a mine in New Jersey somewhere, so are we being singled out?"
"We're not expecting our officers to go to work high. That's a violation that you're under the influence of something. That exists now for alcohol, if an officer shows up drinking or under the influence of alcohol they're suspended. There's a policy in place so I wouldn't expect anything different for somebody to be under the influence of cannabis, my only concern is that it stays in the body for 30 days."
What about when it comes to testing police officers for cannabis when they return to work?
Colligan says "We have to wait for the science. there's an alcohol test for alcohol we can determine exactly how much alcohol is in your system and what is considered under the influence. and there is a clear definition on the marijuana side of it "
What about marijuana and firearms?
"You cannot have a medical marijuana card and firearms permit," Colligan says.
"Some of the legislators have been bringing up the ATF issue but if you have department-issued handgun, and department issued ammunition you're not under that ATF requirement but if you have to purchase your own gun which some departments make you do, then that does open up the ATF issue, the federal issue."
Colligan says there's still a lot to work out.
"We have a lot to work out, The Attorney General still owes us a new drug testing policy which is supposed to come out soon, Yes we realize it's now legal, we're just asking officers to hold off, we don't want any of our members to be the test case. We don't want any of our members getting fired and waiting two years to get their jobs back, so be patient and once we get more guidance we can advise them a lot better."
So at the end of the day, NJSPBA president Pat Colligan, will police officers in New Jersey be able to use legal marijuana on their day off?
"I think when you get a memo from the chief law enforcement officer in the state of New Jersey the attorney general, It's going to be tough I've spoken to Senate president Nicholas Scutari. He has no intention right now of posting a bill. I see the day coming and I see it a lot clearer for us very soon."
Below is the Memo referenced that was distributed by Pat Colligan, President of NJSPBA
PLEASE DISTRIBUTE TO YOUR MEMBERS!
On February 22, 2021, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act (CREAMMA).
As we approach the deadline for the NJ State legalization of Cannabis, we want to caution your members that many components of that legislation are not yet in place.
For instance, the new testing policy from the Attorney General’s Office has not been distributed to your agencies yet. The current policy still requires that any presumptive test for cannabis will require you to be placed on the National Drug Registry. Yes, we are aware of what the memo says, but we are concerned about what SOME individual Chiefs will do. We are expecting a revised policy very soon.
CREAMMA provides that while its employment-related provisions became “effective” immediately upon the enactment of the law, they are not “operative” until the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) adopts its initial rules and regulations. One of CREAMMA’s requirements is that an employer use a Workplace Impairment Recognition Expert (WIRE) to conduct a “physical evaluation” of an individual who is drug tested for marijuana to be sure the individual is not under the influence at the workplace. To the Attorney Generals credit, he does not want individual agencies utilizing Drug Recognition Experts (DRE’s) to determine an officer’s impairment. There is currently NO CRC guidance for WIRE training or qualifications. Some employers have taken the position that they retain the right to discipline for a positive test until the law is fully implemented, including the provisions for the WIRE. Until those provisions are in place you should not risk your job, or at the very least a long-term suspension.
WE CAUTION ALL MEMBERS TO WAIT FOR FURTHER CLARIFICATION!
Please remember, this memorandum allowing off-duty, legally purchased cannabis use is exactly one week old today. It does not come close to answering the myriad of questions that have arisen (including the Federal firearm implications). I’m sure that we will have further clarification prior to the May PBA meeting. The position we take right now is PATIENCE PLEASE!