Legislation planned to block off-duty cops from marijuana use
TRENTON – Legislation is being drafted that would change state law and allow police departments to prohibit law enforcement officers from using marijuana for recreational purposes while off-duty.
Assemblywoman Victoria Flynn, R-Monmouth, said the bill is necessary because guidance from Attorney General Matthew Platkin telling police departments not to penalize officers for off-duty marijuana use would have disastrous legal and financial implications for local governments and future criminal cases.
“It’s in response to some of the issues that have been raised to us by local law enforcement about the intrusion into their operations by the attorney general’s taking I guess a laissez-faire approach to marijuana use by law enforcement officials,” Flynn said.
Flynn said a number of officials reached out to her legislative office because of confusion triggered by Platkin’s memo.
“It almost would have been better left unsaid,” she said. “The administration has had over four years to develop policies and procedures and get feedback from employers, especially public employers, on the issue of legalizing marijuana, and it seems that this was really a missed opportunity to figure out how best to roll this out when to comes to law enforcement officers, even DPW workers who use heavy equipment.”
Platkin said the memo was written in response to numerous questions from law enforcement chief executives.
"The April 13 memo simply reflects the letter of the law, including how it impacts police officers, and does not in any way go beyond the plain text of the statute as written or the regulations that the Cannabis Regulatory Commission has issued to date, nor does it reflect a policy position I have taken," Platkin said.
"In my capacity as New Jersey's chief law enforcement officer, public safety is my top priority," he said. "To be clear, I share the concerns being expressed by some elected officials, legislators, and others with regard to the off-duty use of legal cannabis by police officers."
Jersey City’s public safety director issued a directive barring off-duty marijuana use by police, and other municipalities have since done the same.
Platkin’s memo says police cannot use marijuana while on duty and that departments should discipline officers who are intoxicated on the job, as they do for alcohol use. But trace amounts of marijuana remain detectable in blood tests long after a person is no longer high.
The memo from Platkin is an interpretation of the legalization law enacted last year. Assemblyman Gerry Scharfenberger, R-Monmouth, who will also sponsor Flynn’s bill, said “it’s appalling.”
“This is just another example of how problematic this poorly written legislation has become and how the referendum hid information from voters,” Scharfenberger said. “First, it was the attempted removal of parental notification – now, it is greenlighting of drug use by police disregarding the issues it will cause.”
Next Monday is the next time legislation can be officially proposed in the Assembly, as a quorum call is scheduled that ends that house’s budget break.
The next date for a full round of committee hearings in the Senate and Assembly, other than the ongoing budget hearings, is Monday, May 9.