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Howell council members urge repeal of part of state marijuana legislation

HOWELL – Members of the Howell Township Council are urging state legislators in Trenton to repeal legislation that became law less than a month ago.

During a meeting on March 23, Mayor Theresa Berger, Deputy Mayor Thomas Russo, Councilman John Bonevich, Councilwoman Pamela Richmond and Councilwoman Evelyn O’Donnell voted “yes” on a motion to pass a resolution which calls for the repeal of legislation known as S-3454.

The bill was passed in the state Assembly and Senate and signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy.

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.

The council’s resolution states that “the majority of New Jersey residents last fall voted to legalize marijuana for use by adults at least 21 years of age.

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

The council’s resolution goes on to state 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 the possession of marijuana or alcoholic beverages as the reason for initiating an investigatory stop of a person.”

The Monmouth County Board of County Commissioners passed a similar resolution calling for the repeal of S-3454 during their March 11 meeting.

During a council meeting on March 9, the members of Howell’s governing body agreed the issue was not with the legalization of marijuana itself, but with a provision of the law that prohibits police officers from notifying the parents and/or guardians of children under the age of 18 who are caught with marijuana or alcohol, on the first offense.

“The people clearly spoke about marijuana in New Jersey. Whether we agree with it or not, we have an obligation to understand how this is exactly going to impact our town,” Russo said.

He asked Berger and Township Manager Brian Geoghegan to provide the council with information as to how the state legislation relates to what Howell can and cannot do in regard to marijuana.

“It is my understanding we have 180 days to develop an ordinance and protocol,” Russo said.

Berger said officials should pay attention to revenue that could be generated by the sale of marijuana as it relates to the township.

Bonevich said he wants to enact a local ordinance regarding marijuana.

“Yes, the commercial corridors, but we have to add some extra (requirements), it can’t be near schools, it can’t be near churches. We have to look into it. I really think we should look at zoning and figure out where we want it,” he said.

Richmond said she respects the voice of the people to legalize marijuana, but the councilwoman said she was “really troubled (when) at the last minute, the majority party (Democrats in the Legislature) added language into the law that prevents law enforcement officers from notifying parents the first time their underage child is caught with marijuana or alcohol. This to me is a terrible mistake. It should have never been stuck into our law.”

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