Jersey City has lost yet another round in its fight to bar police officers from using cannabis while off-duty.
In a decision issued today, the Civil Service Commission upheld an administrative law judge’s holding last month that a police officer in New Jersey may legally use cannabis off-duty. The commission held that federal law doesn’t preempt the CREAMM Act, which legalized the use of cannabis in New Jersey.
Last year, Mayor Fulop explained the city’s zero tolerance policy in a tweet. “New Jersey’s policies allowing law enforcement to smoke is an outlier nationally and one that will put our officers + community at risk with impaired judgment.” Today’s decision, which involved Police Officer Omar Polanco, rejected the city’s policy.
Polanco was fired last year after testing positive for the presence of cannabis during a random urinalysis. There was no evidence offered by the city that Polanco had used cannabis, or been high, on the job.
In court proceedings the city argued that federal law preempts the CREAMM Act’s protections. Because a police officer must carry a gun to perform his or her job, said the city, he or she must apply for a federal gun license and, in so doing, swear that he or she doesn’t use a controlled substance. Thus a cannabis user would have to lie on the federal application in order to get a gun license.
Last month, Administrative Law Judge Joann Lasala Candido rejected this reasoning, noting that New Jersey police officers were authorized to carry service weapons without a federal permit, thus obviating the conflict with federal law. Candido ordered Polanco reinstated.
Today’s holding affirmed Judge Candido’s decision and ordered Polanco’s reinstatement along with back pay and attorneys fees.
For Polanco, the termination and subsequent battle to regain his job has been particularly difficult. Only months before his cannabis imbroglio, Polanco shot and killed a man on Communipaw Avenue who threatened a woman with a gun. It was an emotionally wrenching experience, says his attorney, Michael Rubas.
The Attorney General has issued new guidelines banning cannabis testing for law enforcement except where there is “reasonable suspicion” that the officer is high on the job.
Jersey City’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.