Hillsborough Mayor Shawn Lipani and Chief of Police Mike McMahon released the following statement on March 9 regarding the new marijuana laws:
As of this writing, Gov. Phil 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:
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.
To apply this to a real-life situation, if an officer sees a 15-year-old (or anyone under the age of 21) 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.
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, 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.