New Jersey police chiefs' position highlights state's double standard on guns and pot

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

A year ago, the state of New Jersey legalized recreational sales of cannabis to adults over the age of 21, but like many legalization measures the law came with a catch. It’s still illegal for the state’s licensed gun owners to use cannabis, either recreationally or medicinally, though there is one very notable exception.

According to acting New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin, police officers in the Garden State are free and clear to toke up or chow down on an edible, as long as they’re not on duty. In fact, according to an opinion issued by his office, officers can’t be drug tested for marijuana unless they’re suspected of being high on the clock or a federal drug test is required per their employment.

Platkin’s position is at odds with federal law, though given the fact that the majority of states have legalized or decriminalized marijuana use for medical patients and/or recreationally, that’s not particularly unusual. But the AG’s stance is also an absurd example of the “Only Ones” argument embraced by gun control activists; that law enforcement are the only ones smart/capable/professional/trained enough to engage in certain Second Amendment activities. Even as gun prohibitionists declare that “police violence is gun violence,” their hand-crafted legislation routinely exempts law enforcement from whatever regulation they’re putting on the table. Ban “battlefield weapons of war”? Sure, unless you’re a cop. Make it a crime to smoke pot and own a gun? Absolutely, unless you’ve got a badge.

Now the head of the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police is weighing in on the issue and urging lawmakers to act; not to remove the glaring double standard in state law by allowing legal gun owners to partake of the devil’s lettuce, but to get rid of it by barring police officers from doing so too.

With bills introduced in the state Legislature last May that would prevent police officers from ingesting cannabis during off-hours, we assumed the legislation would be fast-tracked to Gov. Phil Murphy, who had indicated an open mind to such an important public safety initiative.
To date, to the dismay of many NJSACOP members, this draft legislation has not been signed. Nor have we seen any robust debate on the issue in the halls of Trenton, despite the obvious need to protect the public.
New Jersey now has the distinction of being the only state in the union that does not provide some form of a law enforcement exemption in regard to cannabis use.
New Jersey’s police chiefs believe the key to avoiding harm is preventing it. Yet we are now left with the singular option of testing an officer after having a reasonable suspicion of impairment. Such a test realistically takes place after the damage is done, as any police chief would attest.
That is why we, and many community leaders in New Jersey, believe there is an urgency to modify the cannabis law after the initial one-year roll-out.
NJSACOP calls for state lawmakers to establish an immediate exemption for police officers, preventing them from using recreational cannabis at any time.
And we also call for the attorney general, as the state’s chief law enforcement officer, to urge a change in law, allowing for random testing of officers at the discretion of the police chief.
Police leadership must have the necessary tools to make an appropriately measured response when an officer uses cannabis. Police executives need to assure the public that their officers are not on the beat while cannabis is metabolizing in their systems.
As the chiefs note, so far New Jersey lawmakers haven’t been in a rush to remove the exemption for law enforcement. Instead, they’ve rushed a number of new restrictions on gun-owning civilians into place; many of which have already been put on hold by a federal judge. An Equal Protection Clause challenge to New Jersey’s exemption on cannabis use for cops while banning it for legal gun owners might not be ripe just yet, but with federal courts already casting doubt on the Gun Control Act’s prohibition on gun ownership for “unlawful” users of drugs the issue could also easily end up being decided by the judiciary and not the New Jersey legislature.
I don’t have a problem with cops using cannabis when they’re off duty, as long as it doesn’t impact their ability to do their job. My big concern is the fact that legal gun owners in New Jersey aren’t given the same liberties as their law-enforcement counterparts. It makes no sense that an armed officer who lawfully smoked a bowl the night before could deny someone a carry permit the next morning because they indicated they use marijuana themselves, either recreationally or medicinally. The chiefs’ position is one way to resolve that dilemma. I just think it would be the wrong choice to make. I doubt the Democratic majority in Trenton would ever pull the trigger on a bill de-criminalizing cannabis use for gun owners, but that would be the easiest way to address the glaring double standard in state law that enable police officers to be the only ones to legally keep both pot and pistols in their homes.