NJ Has Become the Latest State to Legalize Recreational Marijuana
But, Some Issues Still Remain Eighteen states and Washington, D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana, and 38 states have given the OK to medical marijuana. New Jersey’s recreational sales just started on April 21st. But, just five states — New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Montana, and Nevada — have passed laws protecting employees from being fired for recreational marijuana use.
However, legislation is already being considered to address some employee use. Sen. Paul Sarlo, who is also the mayor of Wood-Ridge, is among the Democrats who want to bar police officers from smoking cannabis, on or off duty.
Mayors list a range of reasons why cops shouldn’t use cannabis off the clock: police should be held to a higher standard; the federal government could withhold funding; and increased liability for towns. Marijuana can stay in someone’s system for 30 days, they note — what if an officer kills someone on duty and marijuana is later found in their system?
Many states that provide employment protections for off-duty cannabis use allow for exemptions for employees in safety-sensitive roles and permit employers of those workers to test for marijuana and discipline those who test positive. But New Jersey does not yet. If the law isn’t amended soon to include a safety-sensitive carve-out, it is likely this issue will soon be tested in court.
National policing experts say New Jersey is an outlier here. That’s primarily because marijuana remains illegal federally as a Schedule I substance, which the government defines as having a high potential for abuse. Just like alcohol or illegal substances, there could be legal grounds to challenge an employee’s conduct or credibility if they are suspected under the influence.
State Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), a champion of legalizing marijuana, called it a “dangerous, slippery slope” to start regulating people’s behaviors on their own time. As Senate president, Scutari has power over what legislation comes before a vote in that body.
But since he made those comments, a growing number of Scutari’s colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, have expressed concern about allowing cops to use cannabis.
“As we saw in the legislative debacle which unfolded with multiple votes on pot legalization, the Murphy crew and its enablers in the Legislature have opened another can of worms which will result in untold legal consequences for New Jerseyans,” state Sen. Michael Testa said in a statement.
Hopefully, the state government will clarify the law as it relates to safety sensitive positions like those working with heavy machinery and or those driving commercial vehicles.