N.J. lawmakers pass bill to notify parents of child’s first marijuana, alcohol offense

Marijuana buds are seen in a prescription bottle

Marijuana buds are seen in a prescription bottle as they are sorted at Compassionate Care Foundation's grow house, Friday, March 22, 2019, in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

New Jersey lawmakers continued to tinker with the state’s budding marijuana laws Thursday, passing a bill that would allow police to notify the parents or legal guardians of a child under 18 who was caught with cannabis or alcohol for the first time.

State law previously barred law enforcement officers from telling parents about their child’s first offense.

“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.”

When Gov. Phil Murphy signed three laws establishing New Jersey’s recreational marijuana market in February, one of them dealt with penalties for underage possession.

In that law, people under 21 found with marijuana or alcohol for the first time would be issued a written warning, but police would not be permitted to notify their parents until the second offense.

The law was a compromise between Murphy, who wanted penalties for underage possession, and some Black and Latino lawmakers who feared it would increase police interactions with young people of color. But the lack of parental notification angered many Republicans and even some Democrats who said it went too far.

The New Jersey Policemen’s Benevolent Association also slammed the so-called clean-up bill as “anti-police rhetoric” and said the language was so confusing that it was urging its members not to take any action on marijuana or alcohol use for fear of running afoul of the new law.

“Underage users of marijuana will be free to smoke it anywhere, including in places the bill says is illegal, because merely stopping a person to enforce the law is now illegal for police,” the statement read.

The second “clean-up” bill, which passed both houses of the legislature Thursday, now needs a signature from Murphy, who’s said he supports the idea of parental notification for a first offense.

Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, who sponsored the bill, said lawmakers should respect the will of voters, who approved by a two-to-one margin a ballot question legalizing recreational weed for people 21 and older on the November ballot.

“Marijuana was legalized for adults, not for children or teenagers,” Gopal said in a statement. “Allowing parents to remain involved and informed can help to make sure that first-time offenders do not become repeat offenders.”

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