Gov. Phil Murphy has signed a bill into law that requires law enforcement officers to provide written notification to the parent or guardian of individuals under the age of 18 who commit a first offense of unlawfully possessing or consuming an alcoholic beverage, cannabis, marijuana or hashish.
Murphy signed the bill on March 26. The state Senate vote on the bill was 36-0, according to a press release.
According to the new law, parents would be notified the first time their underage child is caught using or possessing marijuana or alcohol.
The legislation, S-3565, revised the recently enacted adult use cannabis law that required parental notification by law enforcement officers for second and third violations.
“Marijuana was legalized for adults, not for children or teenagers,” said Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth). “Parents need to be notified if their underage child is using marijuana or alcohol so they can take the appropriate steps to protect them from the potential harmful effects of substance use at young ages and to help them make responsible decisions.
“Allowing parents to remain involved and informed can help to make sure that first time offenders do not become repeat offenders,” Gopal said.
The legislation signed by Murphy requires parental notification upon the first violation for underage possession or consumption of alcohol, cannabis items, marijuana or hashish by individuals under the age of 18.
The previous law required the parent or guardian of the minor to be notified after a second violation and provided information on how to access community-based services. An individual’s parent or guardian would also have been notified for any subsequent violations, with the minor subject to a referral to community services, according to the press release.
After Murphy signed the revised legislation, Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) and Sen. Anthony M. Bucco (R-Morris and Somerset) issued a press release and said it “fails to address impractical complications in the laws which could brand law enforcement officers as criminals for minor procedural gaffes committed during interactions with minors.”
“This (revised legislation) is a step in the right direction for New Jersey families, but to be frank, this legislation misses a major problem when it comes to fixing this mess,” said Bucco, who was a Republican co-sponsor with O’Scanlon.
“For parents to be notified, police would have to be willing to risk criminal penalties when interacting with juveniles suspected of using or possessing marijuana or alcohol.
“Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are willing to fix a very important component of the problem they have created, but their prioritization of the parental notification fix is a smoke screen that distracts from the nebulous conditions they have created that could easily ruin an officer’s career if not navigated flawlessly,” Bucco said.
O’Scanlon said more changes are necessary to protect police officers from unfair criminal prosecution when they encounter underage individuals in possession of marijuana or alcohol.
The recently enacted law allows law enforcement officers to be charged with depravation of civil rights for what O’Scanlon and Bucco called inconsequential errors that may be made when dealing with an individual under the now-legal age of 21.
O’Scanlon and Bucco are sponsoring legislation, S-3577, which would prevent the legalizing of marijuana from becoming an attack on law enforcement officers and shielding the officers from irrational criminal charges, according to the Republican senators’ press release.
Also commenting on Murphy’s signing of the revised parental notification bill was Thomas A. Arnone, the director of the Monmouth County Board of County Commissioners.
The county’s governing body had called on state legislators to revise the initial legislation that did not provide for parental notification following a first offense.
“The Monmouth County commissioners came out strongly against the underage marijuana possession bill and I am glad to see our concerns regarding parental notification have been addressed,” Arnone told Newspaper Media Group.
“Parents need to be aware of what their children are doing and since they cannot always be with them, sometimes parents need to rely on schools and law enforcement to be their eyes and ears.
“The commissioners are very passionate about a parent’s right to know if their child gets into trouble and also the right of law enforcement to be able to protect our children and help them make good decisions,” Arnone said.
— Managing Editor Mark Rosman contributed to this article.