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State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch). (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe.)

Lawmakers send latest marijuana cleanup bill to Murphy’s desk

By Nikita Biryukov, March 25 2021 4:58 pm

The Senate and Assembly cleared a bipartisan bill that would move parental notifications to underage marijuana users first offense by overwhelming margins in bipartisan votes Thursday.

The bill cleared the Senate 36-0, passing the Assembly 72-0.

If Gov. Phil Murphy signs it — he has indicated he will — marijuana users under the age of 21 would see their parents notified on their first offense, instead of their second, as was the case in a cleanup bill signed into law last month.

It would also bar police from taking such users into custody at a police station but allows officers to detain offenders at the scene if such detainment is necessary to gather information for a written warning.

“Marijuana was legalized for adults, not for children or teenagers,” said State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch), its sponsor. “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.”

Despite the bill winning their support, Republicans sought other alterations to remove criminal liability for police officers who illegally search underage marijuana users.

“This 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 State Sen. Tony Bucco (R-Boonton). “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.”

The earlier cleanup bill lowered the bar to criminally charge officers for a narrow set of constitutional rights violations by removing a requirement that the abuse be predicated on an individual’s protected class, like their race.

GOP lawmakers and police unions have railed against the rule, claiming it criminalizes policing, but their cries are likely to fall on deaf ears.

The provision was the result of protracted negotiations between Democratic legislative leaders and the Legislative Black and Latino Caucuses, whose members feared disparate enforcement of marijuana laws would continue without safeguards.

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