Marijuana Decriminalization and Cannabis Legalization
To the Residents of Hopewell Valley
As many of you may know, Governor Murphy signed three laws into effect last week which decriminalized marijuana and set out orders to have previous convictions and/or pending cases dismissed. This was expected as a majority of New Jersey residents voted to have marijuana legalized in the state. However, what was not expected was for parents to be denied access to information regarding their child’s marijuana or alcohol use. The law establishes a new framework for individuals under the age of 21 who possess or consume any amount of marijuana, cannabis or alcohol in any public place, including schools.
This presents many questions and concerns for us as members of the police department, and I am assuming for you as well. We believe parents deserve and need to know when their children are in potentially dangerous situations, so we want you to be informed of the recent changes and associated impacts. Below are the outlined changes to the law when officers now encounter juveniles who are in possession of marijuana and/or alcohol. These 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.
• 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. Our only action that will be taken will be to issue a written warning, which will not be provided to the individual’s parent or guardian.
After reviewing the new policy, what presents itself as most problematic to the police department is our inability to freely communicate with parents. Our police department has always sought the implementation of non-punitive measures for the majority of juvenile offenses including underage alcohol or marijuana possession or consumption. Formal charges have always been a last resort. Over the years, we have diligently worked with the school administration to keep our students safe and provided open lines of communication with parents. Our Juvenile Detective is deeply invested with the school district, routinely interacting with the students through positive programs that empower healthy decision making.
One of our department’s greatest strengths has been our ability to foster positive relationships and build trust within the community. From having officers perform routine safety checks of the schools to create positive, daily interactions to the implementation of an annual youth police academy, our department has dedicated a great deal of time and energy to maintaining a healthy and safe community. Despite the threat this legislation poses, we will continue to work with the community and its youth.
Together, we will find a way to navigate these trying times. Please know our priorities have not changed even though our means of achieving them might. As always, do not hesitate to reach out to us with any questions or concerns.