Four Morris County police departments aren’t happy with new state laws they say will keep them from notifying parents of minors using or in possession of marijuana or alcohol.
Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy signed three bills to regulate, decriminalize and allow the possession and use of marijuana by anyone over 21 years old in the Garden State. Under one of the new laws, underage drinking and marijuana use and possession are treated as an “offense subject to written warnings” instead of fines or other charges.
Florham Park, Mount Olive and Pequannock police departments said the new rules for minors will “infringe upon the rights of parents.” Morristown police leaders have also voiced their opposition.
Morristown Police Benevolent Association President Dennis Bergman said he shares the same opinions as the other departments and agrees that parents should be made aware of the new laws.
“Me personally as a parent I think it’s not a good idea,” Bergman said. “But what the marijuana laws are they are, we are just here to enforce the laws.”
Speaking as an officer, Bergman said the rules are “short-sighted” but wanted to provide parents information on the new law.
“If we see a 9-year-old smoking a joint we can’t tell their parents. It just seems like it wasn’t really thought out,” Bergman added. “We just wanted to let the community and parents know and this applies to alcohol too.”
Mount Olive Chief of Police Stephen Beecher posted on Facebook that he finds “the restriction on parental notification counterproductive.” In his experience, reads his post, “the best outcomes with juveniles are those in which the parents or guardians are involved. Further, I believe the law infringes upon the rights of parents in caring for their children.”
Pequannock and Florham Park departments shared similar messages on Facebook this week and called the state’s approach “counterproductive.”
“The Florham Park Police Department is concerned with this portion of the law for several reasons,” the post from the department on Facebook reads. “First, the law as it stands is counterproductive to the decades-long approach the Department has spent teaching our children about the dangers of alcohol and drugs through school-based educational programs.”
Under new marijuana laws, users over 21 may legally possess up to 6 ounces of marijuana. The new laws remove all civil penalties and fines for underage users, even from underage drinking citations.
Under the new law, minors would be issued three warnings. For the first violation, officers issue a written warning to the minor or underage person. For the second violation, officers notify parents of the offense and provide a referral to a public or private agency or organization for community service and substance abuse education. A third offense results in a $50 penalty or community service and a referral to a substance use treatment center.
Like alcohol, marijuana users can face DUI charges if driving a car while high. But last month, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued new rules and barred using only the smell of marijuana to conduct searches. A third law decriminalizes the law for both underage marijuana and alcohol users. Even if they observe the underage person using marijuana in plain view, officers cannot conduct a search.
Last month, The New Jersey Police Benevolent Association also criticized the bills calling them “confusing” and urged officers “to limit all marijuana enforcement.”
“The bill dangerously ties your hands,” said the state PBA last week. “It establishes penalties of only warnings for illegal use by minors of marijuana or alcohol but essentially prevents an officer from even approaching a person suspected of being a minor.”
Last week, state legislatures said decriminalizing cannabis was “critical” for Black and brown communities.
“The War on Drugs in many ways became a war on particular communities, incarcerating millions of people and affecting families irreparably for decades,” said Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, a Democrat from Paterson. “The action we take now to help our Black and brown communities who have been disproportionately affected by current laws surrounding cannabis use is critical to trauma for future generations.”
Jessie Gomez is a local reporter for DailyRecord.com and NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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