Jersey City says armed cops cannot use cannabis off duty. Police union says that’s ‘pure hogwash’

Union wants judge to dismiss lawsuit the city filed targeting state cannabis law

By: - February 1, 2024 10:33 am

Jersey City officials have argued that federal law bars anyone who owns a firearm from using cannabis, a claim the union disputes. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)

Lawyers representing a Jersey City police union say the city’s federal lawsuit that targets New Jersey for allowing Garden State police officers to use cannabis is nothing more than a “political agenda masquerading” as a civil complaint and should be dismissed.

Attorney Peter Paris, who filed the motion to dismiss the case late Wednesday on behalf of the Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association, argues the city faces no real threat if it follows the state’s marijuana legalization law — known as the CREAMM Act — and permits its cops to use cannabis. The city wants a federal judge to allow it to fire officers who use cannabis while off duty.

“Plaintiffs claim a potential, hypothetical injury based on the novel notion that Public Safety Director James Shea hypothetically risks federal indictment for providing firearms and ammunition to Jersey City Police officers who consume cannabis off-duty in accordance with their rights under the New Jersey Constitution and the CREAMM Act,” Paris writes in the 19-page filing.

New Jersey and Jersey City have butted heads over marijuana policy since Attorney General Matt Platkin in 2022 told law enforcement officials statewide that state law does not allow them to fire police officers who use cannabis off duty. The city’s mayor, Steve Fulop, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2025, and Shea have said they will continue to bar city cops from using cannabis, and the city has fired at least four officers for doing so.

Fulop and Shea have argued that federal law bars anyone who owns a firearm from using cannabis. In the police union’s Wednesday filing, Paris says New Jersey cops are not required to hold firearms permits at all, so federal statutes related to firearms permits are “wholly irrelevant.”

The Civil Service Commission has ordered Jersey City to reinstate at least two cops it fired for testing positive for cannabis. Shea has argued that he would face federal prosecution if he allowed officers who use cannabis to be armed, but the union’s legal filing says that is “pure hogwash.”

“The court will note the City cites no actual communication from any federal agency to support its purported interpretation of federal firearms law,” Paris says. “Instead, the City conjures hypothetical scenarios in which ATF agents swoop into Police Headquarters and arrest Director Shea for reinstating police officers who the Civil Service Commission ordered to be reinstated.”

New Jersey cops are winning fight to use cannabis while off duty

Paris further argues that a case cited by the city’s lawsuit — a 1991 U.S. Supreme Court case out of Wisconsin — actually proves the union’s case. In that ruling, the nation’s high court said federal anti-pesticide law did not preempt local regulation of pesticides.

That ruling, Paris writes, “supports defendants’ position in this matter, namely, that federal firearms laws do not pre-empt New Jersey law concerning firearms possession.”

No federal agency has revoked the gun permits of the cops in question, but even if they had, the officers could still work and carry firearms, according to Paris. 

“There can be no credible argument that the federal firearms statute pre-empts New Jersey law when it comes to arming police officers without the need for a federal firearms permit,” he says. 

A city spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. 

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.

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