New York State In-depth

NYPD Walks Back Decision to End of Marijuana Testing for Officers

ALBANY, New York — The New York Police Department announced Wednesday it would no longer randomly test police officers or job applicants for marijuana, but then subsequently sought to walk back that directive.

An internal memo shared with the Times Union, which was authored by the department’s deputy commissioner for legal affairs, said the policy will align with state Labor Law that prohibits adverse employment actions based on recreational marijuana use. The department will still be allowed to test someone for marijuana “if there is reasonable suspicion that the member is impaired by marijuana on the job.”

“The rationale behind this determination is that there is no test for marijuana that conclusively determines current intoxication, making it impossible to determine by drug test alone whether an employee has tested positive for marijuana because of improper use on the job or use during statutorily protected off -hours use,” the memo states.

But hours later, after news organizations reported on the policy shift, NYPD police chief Keechant Sewell issued a memo to all commanders stating, “existing department policies that prohibit the use of marijuana remain in effect. Members of the service are not permitted to use cannabis on or off duty and will continue to be subject to random, scheduled, and for-cause drug screening.”

It’s unclear what prompted the chief’s memo, which conflicted with the earlier missive sent Monday to the police commissioner, chief and 11 other high-ranking members of the department.

New York’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act went into effect 15 months ago and legalized recreational marijuana use for those 21 and older.

The policy shift was a result of an opinion from the New York City Law Department that instructed all city agencies, including the NYPD, to stop pre-employment, random and scheduled testing for marijuana.

Although many smaller departments have provisions in their labor contracts to randomly test officers, many do not unless there is probable cause to believe an officer is under the influence of drugs or alcohol while on-duty.

A spokesman for the State Police said their agency is not changing its policy and will continue to subject members to random and scheduled drug testing, including for marijuana.

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