On Monday night, Governor Phil Murphy signed three laws that decriminalized marijuana and set out orders to have previous convictions and/or pending cases dismissed. The majority of Jersey Shore residents voted for marijuana legalization, but there are a few fairly unknown aspects of the laws that may leave some parents unhappy.
Friday morning, Point Pleasant Beach Police Chief Joseph A. Michigan wrote to residents on the Department's Facebook page about how marijuana legalization in the State will limit law enforcement's ability to protect your children when it comes to marijuana and alcohol.
According to Chief Michigan, when officers now encounter juveniles, who are in possession of marijuana or alcohol, the following restrictions apply:
• The odor of marijuana or alcohol no longer constitutes reasonable articulable suspicion to initiate a stop of an individual under the age of 21, nor does it provide probable cause to search the person’s personal property or vehicle.
• The unconcealed possession of an alcoholic beverage or marijuana that is observed in plain sight shall not constitute probable cause to initiate a search of an individual under the age of 21 or that individual’s personal property or vehicle to determine a violation of any law.
• An individual under the age of 21 who possesses marijuana or alcoholic beverages shall not be arrested, detained, or otherwise taken into custody except to the extent required to issue a written warning.
This is the most important change.
• For an individual under the age of 21 who possesses marijuana or alcoholic beverages as a first offense, this new law forbids officers to contact a parent or guardian.
I voted to legalize marijuana in New Jersey. I think it's smart socially and fiscally. However, the fact that if an officer finds someone underage with alcohol or marijuana, that they can not inform a parent or guardian is dangerously irresponsible.
Chief Michigan gave a really good example.
To apply this to a real-life situation, if an officer sees a 12-year-old (or a juvenile of any age) consuming alcohol or smoking marijuana, we CANNOT contact the juvenile’s parent/guardian unless this behavior has been previously documented. Unless the child chooses to share this information, parents will be left in the dark.
I can understand how this part of the new marijuana legalization can be frustrating to law enforcement. All New Jersey police departments work tirelessly to build a trusting and safe relationship with their communities. Their jobs are to protect and serve. How are officers supposed to protect underage children from alcohol and marijuana abuse when they can't make a parent or guardian aware?
Chief Michigan continued:
This policy goes against every step we have taken as a department, a school district, and a community to work collaboratively to protect our children. We are shocked and appalled as a police department but also as parents. Who will ensure the welfare of our kids, if the police can neither act nor contact a parent or legal guardian?
The only argument I would make is to lower the age from 21 to 18 when it comes to informing a parent or guardian. There's a big difference between a 13-year-old possessing and a 20-year-old possessing.
Regardless of whether you're on the side of with the Pt. Pleasant Beach Police Chief or not, you must applaud his dedication to keeping our youth safe.
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