NJ Assembly panels vote for parent notification for youth pot use
TRENTON – The fix to the fix to the marijuana legalization law was endorsed Wednesday by two Assembly committees, potentially putting it on track to reach Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk in a week.
The bill, A5472, would require parents or guardians of people under age 18 to be notified the first time their child is caught with marijuana or alcohol. A law enacted last month directed police not to notify them until it happens a second time, with referrals to services following for a third offense.
That law was enacted to address concerns from minority lawmakers that the legalization of adult-use recreational marijuana would wind up focusing police enforcement on minors, particularly Blacks and Hispanics. The change was rushed to approval with little debate, and a backlash followed.
“It’s been I guess about a month since this bill passed, and I actually congratulate the majority party here for recognizing sometimes Trenton makes a mistake – even the majority party,” said Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union.
“I think this is a necessary change,” Bramnick said. “I think it was supported at least unanimously by Republicans on the floor, and now I believe it will be unanimously supported by a bipartisan vote.”
The vote in the Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee was bipartisan and unanimous. That was followed in the afternoon by a second unanimous vote in the Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee, which heard the bill in order in approve some technical amendments.
The Assembly and Senate – the latter of which has not yet held a committee hearing on the latest change – have voting sessions Thursday, March 25, their last before the budget break.
“We do always try to get it right in the majority party,” said Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, D-Passaic.
“The Legislature not infrequently has to make adjustments to legislation that it has passed for any number of reasons, and in this case to better align the bill with the sensitivities of the people of New Jersey with respect to the question of parental authority and control over their children,” said Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington.
The bill was amended to specify that that an underage person caught with alcohol, marijuana, hashish or a cannabis item is not to be transported to a police station or headquarters or otherwise taken into custody at the location beyond what it needed to issue a written warning and collect needed information.
Bramnick said he supports other amendments to the new law, including the police standard for probable cause and police liability. Representatives from first-responder groups also pushed for additional changes to be considered.
“We think it’s excellent that we’re amending this bill so quickly,” said Sean Lavin, legislative chair for the New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police. “I applaud the Legislature for recognizing that there was an issue and they’re addressing it so succinctly and effectively. But I think we need to go a step further.”
Lavin said police should be able to search vehicles or backpacks if, for instance, they pull over a car and see a minor drinking or using marijuana.
“We just want to be able to get it, so if that young person is drinking or using, we want to be able to take it from them so they can’t use it, so they can’t drive, so they can’t hurt themselves or somebody else,” Lavin said.
“An officer can’t make any type of real referral to a community agency to maybe provide the child with help until the third notification,” said Anthony Tarantino, president of the Newark Fire Officers Union. “There’s a little bit of a disconnect there.”