Kids caught with weed or booze? Cops can’t tell you — NJ Top News 2/23
If your kids are caught with booze or weed, police can no longer tell you about it.
With great fanfare, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a package of bills that officially makes marijuana legal in New Jersey for adult recreational use. It took months for the legislation to be worked out with the Legislature after voters approved the issue on the ballot last November. In the aftermath of the signing, much of the attention was focused on when and how you will be able to buy weed legally (it will be months.) However, provisions in a controversial companion bill on decriminalization have taken many parents by surprise.
If police see your underage son or daughter smoking weed or drinking alcohol, they can no longer detain them and call you to come get them. The decriminalization bill specifically bars police from telling you they found your child smoking or drinking. In fact, officers could face criminal penalties themselves if they do tell you. It requires them to issue a warning on a first offense. For a second offense, you would be notified if the child is under 18. A third offense triggers a referral to drug education or treatment.
The new law also imposes no fines on underage users, something Murphy had wanted.
State Sen. Robert Singer, R-Ocean, raised the prospect of underage kids drinking and smoking weed on the beach, and cops powerless to stop it. He asked if a written warning would do anything to deter kids and called the decriminalization a "free pass...to do whatever you want to do in this state."
Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, claimed New Jersey was endorsing kids "to not only smoke pot, but to now drink as well."
The criminal penalties police face if they violate the new laws, already has them wary of doing anything. Police union leaders are advising police to not approach anyone they see using weed in public until the new rules are clarified. The New Jersey State Police Benevolent Association called the decriminalization law "treacherous" in an advisory to members.
The decriminalization bill was a messy compromise that had the backing of the Black Legislative Caucus. Members successfully killed any attempt to impose fines or penalties for underage use. They claimed police would use those provisions to unfairly stop and fine minority youth more often than whites under the age of 21.
Assemblyman Jamal Holley, D-Union, said it was about social justice, "ensuring that juveniles in our most struggling communities are no longer unfairly targeted."
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