Changes to NJ Law Do Not Address Possible Criminal Implications for Police in Conducting Vehicle Searches

TRENTON, NJ — Parents will be notified the first time their underage children are found in possession of marijuana or alcohol, under a change in New Jersey’s new recreational marijuana law.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law on March 26 a bill that requires police to provide a written warning to parents or guardians of anyone under age 18 who "commits on first offense unlawfully possessing or consuming an alcoholic beverage, cannabis, marijuana or hashish."

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When Murphy on February 22 signed into law a packet of bills to legalize recreation marijuana use by adults that notification of minors would not occur until the second offense — triggering swift opposition from the public and law enforcement.

While the latest measure (S3565/A5472) was approved unanimously in both the state Senate and Assembly, it does not change another controversial aspect of the new marijuana legalization law — police officers could face criminal penalties for searching the motor vehicle of a minor caught with marijuana or alcohol.

“It is essential that parents are informed if the police find their child with marijuana or alcohol. However, this legislation does not address the fact that police officers are guilty of (a third-degree) crime if they search a minor even if that minor is smoking marijuana right in front of them,” said Assemblyman Sean Kean (R-Monmouth/Ocean) who represents the 30th District, which includes Belmar and Lake Como. He and the district’s two other lawmakers — Sen. Robert Singer and Edward “Ned” Thomson — all voted in favor of the measure on March 25 before it headed to the governor’s desk.

Kean said he plans on introducing legislation that will repeal the provision that “creates a criminal offense against police who violate this law even if they do so unintentionally.”

In a March 22 letter to Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex), Kean said he urges that such a measure be posted “to address the criminalization of hard-working police officers who would potentially face a loss of career or jail for the simple reason they conducted a motor vehicle search of a minor.”

READ MORE: Lawmakers, Police Slam New Rules Easing Penalties for Underage Possession of Marijuana, Alcohol