New Jersey Monitor

With legal sales of recreational marijuana beginning potentially next week (though possibly a bit further off in Montclair, site of the state's first medical marijuana dispensary), acting Attorney General Matt Platkin has issued a memo to law enforcement leaders reminding them New Jersey law allows cops to light up when they’re off duty.

The memo makes clear police officers can consume marijuana legally purchased within the state while off duty, but specifies on-duty use can be cause for termination or other discipline.

“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 in the memo, which was sent to all law enforcement chief executives Wednesday. “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 safety of our communities and our officers demands no less.”

The memo does not represent a change in policy or law. It is guidance informing authorities of provisions in the legislation that enabled the launch of the state’s legal market. Gov. Phil Murphy signed that bill into law in February 2021.

The law enabling New Jersey’s legal marijuana market bars any employer in the state from refusing to hire or fire or otherwise issue discipline because an employee consumes cannabis products. It does allow employers to bar drug and alcohol use at their place of business, and workers can be fired for being intoxicated during work hours.

Platkin’s memo was issued two days after the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which is responsible for standing up the state’s legal marijuana market, voted to allow 13 medical marijuana dispensaries to begin recreational marijuana sales.

Those dispensaries must still apply for and receive retail licenses. Murphy’s office announced Thursday the cannabis commission will issue the needed licenses starting Thursday, April 21.

It's still unclear when sales will start in Montclair, which passed an ordinance last summer to allow multiple kinds of marijuana businesses in town. Representatives of Ascend — the Bloomfield Avenue medical dispensary that first opened in 2012 under former owners, as Greenleaf Compassion Center — have told Montclair Local they haven't yet been able to apply for a local license because the township hasn't yet completed creating its application process. They're hoping the Montclair Township Council will authorize Ascend to sell marijuana for recreational use by passing a resolution — as the governing bodies in Rochelle Park did for the dispensary's location there — bypassing the need for a local application.

Interim Township Attorney Paul Burr said earlier this month that request was under consideration, and an Ascend spokesperson said this week the company hadn't yet heard anything new.

Platkin’s memo was met with concern from at least one lawmaker. Assemblywoman Beth Sawyer (R-Gloucester) on Thursday said she worries the law could lead to impaired on-duty officers.

“Anyone who wants to work in public safety must be held to higher standards,” she said. “Our men and women in law enforcement have the responsibility to make life-altering decisions on a daily basis, for themselves, their partners, for the public. I want to trust that they are at their best when doing so.”

Other states have varied in their approaches on law enforcement marijuana use. Colorado allows its agencies to set its own rules. So does Arizona, where a handful of large agencies have barred their officers from using marijuana over concerns about federal law.

Marijuana, including medical marijuana, is still illegal federally. A federal law that bars those using illegal drugs from owning a firearm exempts firearms issued by a governmental agency.

This story is provided by New Jersey Monitor. It originally appeared here. Additions have been made by Montclair Local, based on reporting by Jaimie Julia Winters, to note the status of Montclair-based medical dispensary Ascend.