ROBBINSVILLE, NJ --  Robbinsville Township Mayor Dave Fried has expressed his concerns with the impact on juveniles of the recent enactment of several state laws decriminalizing marijuana, as well as a State Attorney General directive that pending convictions for marijuana possession be dismissed.

In November, New Jerseyans overwhelming support a ballot question calling for the decriminalization of marijuana by a margin of two to one last November with more than 2.7 million votes in favor. Legislative action and the signature of Governor Phil Murphy codified that vote into law last month.

Fried, who also serves as the Township's director of public safety, said that he and Robbinsville Township Police Chief Chris Nitti both respect the will of the people but "as loving parents, we have the right to know when our children are involved in dangerous situations. "Like many of you, we are concerned about some of the other aspects of the legalization bill. When officers now encounter juveniles who are in possession of marijuana and/or alcohol." 

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In particular, Fried and Nitti are concerned with parts of the trio of new laws that limit a law enforcement officer from considering "the odor of marijuana and/or alcohol no longer constitutes “reasonable articulable suspicion” to initiate the stop of a person under the age of 21, and it no longer provides probable cause to search that person’s personal property and/or vehicle." 

They are also concerned with provision in the law which prevent law enforcement officials from detaining, or contacting the parents of, juveniles found with alcohol or marijuana.

"To apply these new laws to a “real-life” situation, if an officer observes a juvenile of any age consuming alcohol and/or smoking marijuana in violation of the law, that officer CAN NOT contact the juvenile’s parent or guardian unless this behavior has been previously documented. Unless that child chooses to share this information, his or her parents or guardians will never know," said Fried and Nitti in a joint statement.  "Most problematic is the inability of the police to freely communicate with the parents and guardians of our children.

The pair said that Robbinsville Township Police Department "has always sought to divert juveniles from the criminal justice system by pursuing “non-punitive” measures for the vast majority of offenses. Only in the most serious of situations does it ever pursue juvenile delinquency complaints against children."

 The New Jersey State Policemen's Benevolent Association (PBA) recently issued a statement saying "the legislation is 'treacherous' to law enforcement 'because it creates a penalty of 3rd 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 union also believes that not being allowed to 'use the odor of marijuana or alcohol as reasonable articulable suspicion to initiate an investigatory stop' and stating that a minor can refuse consent to be searched means 'law enforcement…no longer has probable cause to search a minor for illegally using marijuana or alcohol' and that 'an officer [who] violates a minor’s rights by using pot or alcohol as the reason for a search…will be charged with deprivation of civil rights.'

"It establishes penalties of only warnings for illegal use by minors of marijuana or alcohol, but it essentially prevents an officer from even approaching a person suspected of being a minor. Absent the commission of another crime or clear legal guidance officers are being forced to ask themselves if writing a warning is worth risking being accused and charged with a 3rd degree crime," stated the PBA. "The mere smell of marijuana and its use in your presence will no longer be grounds to search an individual."

In signing the law, Governor Phil Murphy noted that “People still need to be responsible. The words ‘adult-use’ have been associated with this since Day 1…my message is it’s adult-use and should be treated like any substance like this - alcohol or other - with responsibility.”

The Township noted that RPD’s has strong ties to the community and our juveniles in particular. The RPD has full-time School Resource Officers (SROs) in all local schools, and has additionally implemented initiatives such as Coffee With a Cop, the Good Behavior Citation program, the RTPD Youth Academy and the S-T-A-R (Stop, Think, Act, Reflect) program, formerly known as D-A-R-E- (Drug Abuse Resistance Education).

"The RTPD has always worked closely with school officials to keep our children safe, to ensure there are open lines of communication with parents and guardians, and to provide referrals and access to programs and services that empower healthy, sound and safe decision-making. Aspects of this new law are counterproductive to years of relationship and trust-building. Most importantly, it is a serious detriment to safety and well-being of our children," said Fried and Nitti. "The priorities of the RTPD will never change, even if the means of achieving its goals of safety and security for all just may have to," 

New Jersey is now the 13th state in the country to legalize weed and only the fourth on the East coast, with Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts passing similar laws in recent years. 

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