Court Rules New Jersey Police Department Must Reinstate Another Officer Fired for Marijuana

A court has ruled that the Jersey City Police Department must reinstate a second officer fired for marijuana and must give them backpay.

Administrative Law Judge Joann Lasala Candido has ruled that the Jersey City PD must reinstate, with backpay, Omar Polanco. Polanco was fired by the department for off-the-job marijuana use. Earlier this month Administrative Law Judge Kimberly Moss gave a similar ruling, declaring that the police department must reinstate Norhan Mansour, another former officer fired for marijuana he used while off duty. The Civil Service Commission subsequently confirmed Judge Moss’ ruling, stating that firing the officer violated state law.

“I agree with the Mansour analysis by ALJ Moss and adopted by the Civil Service Commission that the federal law cited by the respondent in its brief does not preempt the [legalization law] as it applies to police officers in New Jersey,” said Judge Candido.

Based on the ruling, not only is the police department required to reinstate the officer, they must give him backpay for the entire time he was away from his position.

Not long after New Jersey legalized marijuana in 2021, Attorney General Matthew Platkin issued a memo clarifying that employees, including government positions like police officers, should not be fired or face disciplinary actions for testing positive for marijuana they use while not at work. Despite the memo, Jersey City Police Department introduced a policy barring officers from using marijuana on or off duty. Mansour was among four officers who were fired for testing positive for THC, with the four filing a lawsuit against the city in April.

“What Jersey City is doing is equivalent to terminating police officers because they had a beer off duty,” said Peter Paris, Mansour’s attorney. “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.”

Jersey City argued to the commission that federal law preempts the state’s marijuana law, which the commission called “unpersuasive”.

“The Civil Service Commission finds that the action of the appointing authority in removing the appellant was not justified,” the group 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.”

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