PBA prez on why cops won’t be busting kids for booze and weed
Dig, if you will, this picture: A group of minors is walking down the boardwalk in Seaside Heights. They're drinking and there is an odor of marijuana around them, as they are also smoking weed. They see a cop walking towards them. What do they do? Nothing. That's because they know the officer can't do anything either unless he or she wants to risk jail time.
Welcome to New Jersey's new marijuana laws.
Only in New Jersey could we finally get laws legalizing marijuana only to have the government screw up by limiting the ability of the police to bust minors for weed, which is illegal for them to use.
The original law, signed by Gov. Murphy, prohibited police from notifying parents the first time their minor is busted or risk criminal liability and possible imprisonment.
After much public outcry, much of it here on New Jersey 101.5, the law was changed so that the police can notify the parents of first-time offenses but they did not go so far as to protect the police as noted by the Brick Township police who started a petition when they do it. So what's a cop to do? Or not do?
New Jersey State Policeman's Benevolent Association President Pat Colligan came on my show March 29 to talk about it.
"Until the law is really fixed and we are protected somewhat, don't engage with the juvenile, no town wants to see their officers locked up."
What are Colligan's thoughts on the law?
"This was incredibly ludicrous when the law first went through a couple of weeks ago, now it still borders on ludicrous."
Listen to what's at risk for the officers who bust minors for weed.
"You have officers still facing a third-degree charge now if the juvenile gets injured during our investigation. We get charged with a second-degree charge, so there's a presumption for third-degree charge of four years in prison. Eight to 10 years for a second-degree charge, so unfortunately what they've effectively done is make sure that we don't even look at somebody under 21 years of age either smoking marijuana or drinking."
This is not about legalizing weed, it's how New Jersey is going about it.
"We get the will of the people, three-quarters of the people, wanted marijuana and we're OK with that. Give us the rules to follow, we'll follow the rules."
Colligan feels the change to the marijuana laws didn't go far enough.
"To face a second or third-degree charge as a police officer for what is effectively a warning? There are two warnings then a $50 fine, but you're going to throw a cop in jail for four years for asking a juvenile to search them? It's crazy and still crazy."
It gets even crazier.
"Part of the law says if we detain the juvenile for too long, what's too long? Can some lawyer tell me what too long is? Is it 10 minutes? Is it 20 minutes? We need some guidance and not only that but when the governor signed both of these laws they went into effect immediately we weren't even given instruction until one in the morning on the first law. Kudos to the Attorney General's office for getting something out as quickly as they could but every time they answered their own question, they had another question. It's not the way to pass a law in New Jersey and it doesn't help with good policing."
Meanwhile, if you're a parent of teenagers, like I am, what should we do?
"I've been there," Colligan said. "These kids thanks to social media know a lot faster than anybody else that hey hands-off we have a civil right to smoke marijuana and drink, and we can pretty much blow it in the cop's face and there's nothing that the cop can do."
Colligan's best advice is "watch your kids."
"See if they smell like alcohol or marijuana when they get home because there's nothing that the police can do to help you."
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Steve Trevelise. Any opinions expressed are Steve's own. Steve Trevelise is on New Jersey 101.5 Monday-Thursday from 7pm-11pm. Follow him on Twitter @realstevetrev.