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Monmouth commissioners want part of marijuana legislation repealed

The Monmouth County Board of County Commissioners is calling on state officials to repeal legislation that became law less than a month ago.

Specifically, the county’s governing body wants S-3454, which was passed in the state Assembly and Senate and signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy, to come off the books.

The new law was a topic of discussion and action during the March 11 meeting of the county commissioners. The meeting was conducted in a remote manner during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

S-3454 became law as part of a package of legislation that legalized adult use marijuana (also called recreational marijuana). Voters approved a referendum in the Nov. 3, 2020, election that legalized a controlled form of marijuana and the Legislature codified how that process will occur.

According to a resolution passed by the county commissioners, S-3454 “addresses marijuana and cannabis use and possession penalties for individuals younger than 21 years old and imposes criminal penalties on law enforcement officers.

“New Jersey residents were not aware at the time of their vote (in November) that this would eventually lead to the New Jersey Legislature voting to make law enforcement officers ‘guilty of a crime’ if they notify parents of children under the age of 18 that their child was caught with marijuana or alcohol, on the first offense,” the commissioners said in the resolution.

The resolution states that S-3454 “is treacherous to law enforcement officers because it creates a penalty of third degree deprivation of civil rights if an officer uses the odor or possession of marijuana or alcoholic beverages as the reason for initiating an investigatory stop of a person.”

The commissioners unanimously called for the repeal of S-3454.

Commissioner Ross Licitra said, “The repeal of this bill is needed for public safety.”

Commissioner Nick DiRocco said, “At best, this effort eluded legislators. At worst, they did not tell the public about it. The legal marijuana issue is governed by (entities) that are looking out for their own interests.”

Commissioner Susan Kiley said, “You count on people like cops and teachers to steer kids in the right direction. You are penalizing officers who are trying to do the right thing.”

Commissioner Lillian Burry joined her colleagues in calling for the law’s repeal.

Director Thomas Arnone said, “I have heard the governor feels there needs to be change here and it will be addressed.”

In previous comments about S-3454, Arnone said, “Not only does this (law) keep parents in the dark about what may be happening in their child’s life, it also shows children there are no major consequences if they are found using marijuana or alcohol for the first time.

“Parents should have the right to know if their child is using or in possession of marijuana from the first encounter and be given the chance to discuss its consequences before it potentially becomes a larger issue.”

In a press release addressing the issue, state Sen. Robert Singer (R-Monmouth and Ocean) was quoted as saying, “People are starting to realize some of the concerning provisions of New Jersey’s new marijuana laws that will cause real problems if we don’t address them now.

“Parents are worried that parental notification is now prohibited when kids are caught with drugs or alcohol. They have a right to know if their 12-year-old is smoking pot.

“Police officers are concerned the new laws treat them like criminals. They are not the enemy and we should not hamstring their efforts to keep kids away from drugs and alcohol,” Singer said.

In the Senate vote on S-3454, Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) voted “yes,” Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) voted “no,” Sen. Sam Thompson (R-Monmouth, Ocean, Middlesex and Burlington) voted “no” and Singer voted “no.”

In the Assembly vote on S-3454, Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling (D-Monmouth) voted “yes,” Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-Monmouth) voted “yes,” Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso (R-Monmouth) voted “no,” Assemblyman Gerard Scharfenberger (R-Monmouth) voted “no,” Assemblyman Ron Dancer (R-Monmouth, Ocean, Middlesex and Burlington) voted “no,” Assemblyman Robert Clifton (R-Monmouth, Ocean, Middlesex and Burlington) voted “no,” Assemblyman Sean Kean (R-Monmouth and Ocean) voted “no” and Assemblyman Edward Thomson (R-Monmouth and Ocean) voted “no.”

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