A Jersey City, New Jersey police officer was unlawfully fired over marijuana and must be reinstated with backpay, state officials said on Wednesday, adopting an administrative law judge’s earlier findings.
About two months after Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed the state’s cannabis legalization bill into law in 2021, the Jersey City Police Department announced a policy barring officers from using marijuana on or off duty. Norhan Mansour was among four officers who were later fired for testing positive for THC and proceeded to file suit challenging the termination.
Mansour’s case has now been settled by the state’s Civil Service Commission (CSC), which agreed with Administrative Law Judge Kimberly Moss that the firing violated state law because the city was not able to establish that the officer used cannabis on the job or was impaired during shifts.
“What Jersey City is doing is equivalent to terminating police officers because they had a beer off duty,” Peter Paris, Mansour’s attorney, said, according to The Jersey City Times. “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.”
The commission said that Jersey City’s argument that federal law preempts the state’s policy was “unpersuasive” and unsupported by the facts. It also said that the department’s claim that the federal ban on purchasing firearms for cannabis consumers does not apply to law enforcement, as officers do not fill out the federal form that inquires about marijuana use in order to obtain a gun.
“This decision resolves the merits of the dispute between the parties concerning the disciplinary charges and the penalty imposed by the appointing authority,” the commission said, adding that its decision won’t be finalized until the police department provides backpay and “immediately” reinstates Mansour.
“The Civil Service Commission finds that the action of the appointing authority in removing the appellant was not justified,” the order approved at Wednesday’s meeting says. “The Commission therefore reverses that action and grants the appeal of Norhan Mansour. The Commission further orders that the appellant be granted back pay, benefits, and seniority from the first date of separation without pay until the day of reinstatement.”
It wasn’t just the department that fought against the cannabis policy change for officers; Mayor Steven Fulop (D), who is running for governor, also said that he supported the decision to impose a rule barring police from using cannabis off-duty.
“NJ’s policies allowing law enforcement to smoke is an outlier nationally and one that will put our officers + community at risk with impaired judgement,” he wrote in April 2022.
3/5 law enforcement to smoke is an outlier nationally and one that will put our officers + community at risk with impaired judgement. Unlike alcohol where there are tests + timelines that can create clear protection between consumption + duty, w/marijuana that doesn’t exist.
— Steven Fulop (@StevenFulop) April 20, 2022
It remains to be seen whether the other three Jersey City police officers who were fired over positive marijuana tests and similarly sued the department will receive the same favorable outcome in their cases.
But as far as the state is concerned, the law is not ambiguous. And New Jersey Attorney General has made it clear that officers can consume off hours, issuing a memo in April 2022 that clarified the policy and codifying updated drug testing guidance for law enforcement earlier this year.
Some lawmakers like Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D) have previously signaled that they would seek to pass legislation to revise the state’s law with respect to law enforcement and cannabis, while others like Senate President Nick Scutari (D) have said that they wanted to preserve the off-duty carve-out.
The governor, for his part, said that he was “open-minded” about a potential policy change to revise the rules for police officers who use marijuana outside of work hours.
In June, meanwhile, the New Jersey Supreme Court separately ruled that police officers improperly used the smell of cannabis as the basis to search a man’s car, allowing him to rescind his guilty plea.
Read the text of the New Jersey commission’s order to reinstate Mansour below:
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.