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Federal Judge Could Rule Soon In Lawsuit Over Cops’ Right To Use Marijuana Off Duty In New Jersey



“Such a conclusion in this case would mean that a state could also legalize other controlled substances such as heroin…in disregard of federal law.”

By Sophie Nieto-Munoz, New Jersey Monitor

A federal judge could decide soon whether to dismiss a lawsuit Jersey City filed against the state over claims that state officials are forcing the city to violate federal law by allowing police officers to use cannabis off duty.

The city has been fighting the state in federal court since the state Civil Service Commission ordered the city to reinstate two officers it had fired for using cannabis. Though the city lost in that venue, its attorneys note that the commission cited an “obvious conflict” between the state’s legalization law, known as CREAMMA, and federal law, which still considers marijuana a Schedule I substance.

Attorneys representing the terminated officers want the lawsuit thrown out, but the city argues that the court should hear the case because it concerns more than just the officers it has terminated. A final ruling on the city’s claims would guide how the city should handle this conflict between state and federal law moving forward, they say.

James Shea, Jersey City’s police director, has argued he could be charged with a federal crime if he allows officers who use recreational cannabis to also possess firearms. The Federal Gun Control Act of 1968 bars any person who is an unlawful user of any controlled substance from possessing a firearm.

“There is no available state remedy in this respect. In the absence of this court deciding this case, Director Shea and Jersey City personnel are left wondering whether doing what CREAMMA says they can do will open them to federal criminal charges,” city attorneys said in a March 18 legal filing.

But a group of Jersey City officers who have been disciplined for using cannabis and the Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association maintain the city has no standing to sue because it does not provide its cops with their service weapons or ammunition, and because the city’s officers do not need federal firearms permits. The officers’ attorneys also say Jersey City “forum shopped” by trying to get a federal judge to hear their case after the state Civil Service Commission heard the city’s arguments on this issue and rejected them.  

“Plaintiffs were simply unhappy and only filed this matter in federal court matter because they lost its CREAMM Act preemption argument in the state court forums,” attorneys for the disciplined police officers wrote in a motion filed last week.

Shortly before the recreational cannabis industry launched in April 2022, state Attorney General Matt Platkin (D) released guidance to law enforcement officials stating that state law doesn’t allow them to fire cops who consume cannabis off duty.

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, who is vying for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2025, said almost immediately that he would defy Platkin’s guidance. The city then moved to fire a group of officers who had tested positive for cannabis. After the officers protested, the Civil Service Commission heard at least two of the officers’ cases and told the city to reinstate them.

The city filed its lawsuit against the state of New Jersey and Platkin, among others in October 2023, arguing that knowingly violating a federal law barring cannabis users from possessing guns would be a felony and would put other officers and the public at risk.

“Such a conclusion in this case would mean that a state could also legalize other controlled substances such as heroin…in disregard of federal law in the same manner as CREAMMA purports to do for marijuana, then require police departments to employ individuals who regularly use such controlled substances even where they must possess a firearm,” city attorneys wrote.

Attorneys for both sides did not respond to requests for comment.

This story was first published by New Jersey Monitor.

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