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Legal cannabis sales finally began in New Jersey last month but while cannabis consumers celebrate the long-awaited policy change, certain lawmakers are unhappy about a memo from the state attorney general clarifying that police officers should not be sanctioned for off-duty marijuana use.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin (D) published his memo ahead of the launch of legal marijuana sales. In it he explicitly instructs law enforcement agencies not to punish police officers for using cannabis in accordance with New Jersey state law when they’re not working.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D) took issue with Platkin’s memo, and called for new legislation to remedy the situation.

The chair of the Senate Budget Committee also called for a law change in order to “match all the other states that have zero tolerance for use of off-duty cannabis by police.”

Gov. Phil Murphy (D), whose administration helped legalize cannabis in New Jersey, indicated he would be “open-minded” about legislation restricting off-duty marijuana use by police officers.

Senate President Nick Scutari (D), however, said he would be opposed to prohibiting law enforcement from using marijuana.

Platkin later received a letter from a group of GOP senators concerned about his stance. They argued federal marijuana prohibition is reason enough to prohibit police officers from cannabis use and that, technically, cannabis users are prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms, yet this is neither mentioned in the memo and neither is it enforced.

However, federal law holds law enforcement to a different standard than consumers when it comes to cannabis use and access to and use of firearms. The following is an exception that could reasonably apply to police officers:

“The provisions of this chapter, except for sections 922(d)(9) and 922(g)(9) and provisions relating to firearms subject to the prohibitions of section 922(p), shall not apply with respect to the transportation, shipment, receipt, possession, or importation of any firearm or ammunition imported for, sold or shipped to, or issued for the use of, the United States or any department or agency thereof or any State or any department, agency, or political subdivision thereof.”

Nonetheless, local officials across New Jersey responded to Platkin’s memo by pledging to issue their own directives prohibiting off-duty cannabis use by police officers.

The mayor of Jersey City announced a local directive along these lines, while the mayors of Bayonne, Kearny and Weehawken issued statements announcing they will institute similar bans.

Newark City Council, meanwhile, approved a resolution calling on the mayor to issue a directive against off-duty marijuana use by law enforcement.

Platkin responded to the blowback his memo has caused by inviting further conversations on how to promote public safety, while warning that steps taken by local officials could lead to employment law issues.

“As I explained in my memo to law enforcement chief executives last week, New Jersey’s law legalizing and regulating cannabis is clear and we are obligated to comply. I welcome conversations on how best to protect public safety,” Platkin said. “Any efforts by local governments to subject officers to additional requirements in the interim, however, may present employment law issues that we anticipate will be handled between those governments and officers in the appropriate course.”

New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police joined the calls for bans on police cannabis use, while the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association has urged its members not to use marijuana.

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About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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