An administrative law judge has ruled that Jersey City should reinstate a police officer fired after testing positive for cannabis, rejecting the city’s argument that federal statutes trump protections in state law.
Jersey City terminated the officer, Norhan Mansour, in April for violating the police department’s drug policy which prohibited the use of cannabis by officers both on and off the job.
Mansour had tested positive for the presence of cannabis in a random urinalysis in September of 2022, a year and a half after New Jersey’s “CREAMM” law, legalizing the personal use of cannabis, had gone into effect.
The court noted that the city had failed to offer evidence that Mansour had used cannabis on the job or that there were signs of impairment during work hours.
New Jersey law, said the judge, Kimberly A. Moss, “precludes employers from terminating an employee simply because the employee uses cannabis and precludes employers from terminating their employees solely due to the presence of cannabinoid metabolites in the employee’s system.”
Mansour’s attorney, Peter Paris, charged that “what Jersey City is doing is equivalent to terminating police officers because they had a beer off duty. Except it’s worse because there is no constitutional right to drink beer, while there is a constitutional right in New Jersey to consume cannabis.”
In April of last year, Jersey City officials said that any officer found to be using cannabis would be fired, rejecting a directive from the New Jersey Attorney General that such firings would be illegal. Tweeted Mayor Fulop at the time, “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.”
The city found what it believed to be legal support for its position in federal law, which requires those applying for a gun permit to attest that they are not users of a controlled substance. The city reasoned that because a police officer must carry a gun to perform their job, they could not both use cannabis and be a police officer.
In Thursday’s decision, the court acknowledged the conflict between state and federal law but rejected the city’s argument nonetheless.
Said the court, though “the state legislature recognized that the personal use of cannabis remains illegal under federal law…our legislature expressly directs law-enforcement agencies in New Jersey not to cooperate with or assist the federal government in enforcing these federal laws.”
The court made quick work of the argument that a federal gun permit was a pre-condition to working as a police officer. “Municipal police officers are exempt from the requirement to have a firearms permit to carry a firearm in any place in the state, provided they have had firearms training in the Police Academy and qualify each year.”
The cases of three other Jersey City officers also fired for testing positive for cannabis remain under consideration.
Jersey City was ordered to resume paying Mansour’s salary and provide backpay to the date of her termination.
The decision now goes to the Civil Service Commission which can adopt, modify or reject the court’s recommendation.
Said Paris, “We fully expect that the Commission will adopt Judge Moss’s cogent opinion. This is not a close case.”