NJ lawmakers approve notifying parents of kids’ first time caught with pot
TRENTON – Parents will be notified the first time their underage child is caught by police with alcohol or marijuana, under a bill hastily passed by the Senate and Assembly that changes part of the adult-use pot legalization law enacted last month.
The bill now awaits the signature of Gov. Phil Murphy, who said he supports altering the earlier law, which limits first warnings to the minor only. Parents are notified fo second and subequent offenses, in cases of marijuana, alcohol, cannabis or hashish that involve someone under age 18.
“Never have I ever seen such an outrage about one piece of legislation,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, R-Union, of last month's law.
“Some people say it takes a village, and so I’m glad to see that the village has now included the parents who do care about their children,” said Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso, R-Monmouth.
“I’m pleased we came to our senses today to correct this law,” said Assemblywoman Aura Dunn, R-Morris. “As a mother of three children, it was unfathomable to me to think that we’d remove parents from the equation when there’s interactions with the police.”
The bill was passed 72-0 by the Assembly and 36-0 by the Senate on Thursday, though a number of Republicans complained the bill doesn’t address all their concerns about the earlier law, in particular the prospect of third-degree charges against police officers for deprivation of civil rights in enforcing drug and alcohol laws.
“When our residents voted yes to legalize marijuana, I am sure they didn’t vote to criminalize the police in this manner or remove the longstanding community protections established for our children,” said Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris.
“While I commend my colleagues on the other side of the aisle for realizing the lunacy of the policy that puts children in harm’s way, the bill does not go far enough,” said Assemblyman Ned Thomson, R-Monmouth.
Assemblyman Sean Kean, R-Monmouth, said the February law if unchanged will have a “chilling effect” on police enforcement involving minors tailgating at the PNC Bank Arts Center or in group rentals in Manasquan, Belmar and other Shore towns.
“The officers are just going to walk away. There won’t be any interaction,” Kean said.
The law passed last month removed criminal penalties and fines for youth under age 21 for marijuana and alcohol possession, in conjunction with the legalization of marijuana for use by adults.
Sen. Bob Singer, R-Ocean, said the new bill “doesn’t do a lot” and that he’s disappointed by it. He said the written warning to parents and guardians is insufficient because it’s not being sent by certified mail to ensure they received it. He said a minor could give a false name and address without consequence.
“There’s nothing in this bill that says if that young person gives you the right address and gets home before his parents, he doesn’t rip up the notification,” Singer said.
“If you vote against this bill, you’ll be saying, ‘Oh, you don’t want to let parents know.’ The truth of it is this bill does nothing, absolutely nothing, because it doesn’t fix the problem,” he said.
Sen. Ron Rice, D-Essex, said the real issue shouldn’t be parental notification so much as the lack of alternatives and facilities for urban youth, which he said forces them to hang out on street corners – near liquor stores and, soon, pot shops.
“When you talk about what the voters voted for when they voted for legalizing marijuana, which I fought against for three years, they did not vote to have our children’s rights abused either, as has been done for so long, particularly in the urban communities,” Rice said.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.