JERSEY CITY, New Jersey (WABC) -- Up until two years ago, Jersey City police were arresting people caught smoking marijuana -- but now, cops are fighting for the chance to legally consume the drug while off duty.
The problem is federal law bars officers from possessing firearms and ammunition if they use cannabis, but officers say the law goes too far and they have filed a lawsuit.
The city has been supportive of the state's marijuana laws passed two years ago, but they are now calling for a federal judge to make it clear that police officers are not allowed to use pot, even when off duty.
The city fired five police officers who tested positive for using pot. Officials made that decision because police officers are required to carry guns.
Federal law prohibits anyone from carrying a gun if they use marijuana, which is still listed as a schedule one drug.
The fired officers have sued, claiming state law allows them to use marijuana, which has created a contradiction.
State Civil Service has sided with the five officers, but the city is asking a federal judge to side with them and make it clear the officers can't be reinstated since they are unable to carry a weapon because they used weed.
"We can no longer arm them or provide them with ammunition, so they are ineligible to be police officers, and I think this is important to note -- they have not been terminated because they used marijuana, they have been terminated because they can no longer carry a firearm and perform the duties of a police officer in the State of New Jersey," Jersey City Public Safety Director Jim Shea said.
The mayor says the State of New Jersey doesn't have what they call carve outs, which prohibit people in various professions from using marijuana, such as bus drivers, child care workers and other emergency service personnel. He says every state where pot is legal has those carve outs, but New Jersey does not.
Mayor Steven Fulop is concerned the city could face big lawsuits if a cop is involved in an incident and tests positive for marijuana use.
"Legalization in New Jersey is a good thing, and I have been a vocal supporter from the start. However, that stands separate from this issue we are seeking to address, which is the fact that New Jersey's CREAMMA law directly conflicts with federal law, exposing Jersey City to tens of millions of dollars in potential liability, compromising public safety, and jeopardizing police officers' careers statewide," Fulop said.
The city offered the five terminated officers other jobs that did not require them to carry a gun, but none of them took those jobs and are fighting to get their old police jobs back.
An attorney for two of the officers who were cleared to return to work by the State Civil Service Commission issued the following statement:
"After losing before multiple Courts and the Civil Service Commission, Jersey City is now wasting additional taxpayer resources on this frivolous complaint. Jersey City seeks to enforce a federal statute that has been ruled unconstitutional by at least five federal courts. We are confident that the Civil Service Commission's rulings will be upheld."