NEWTON, NJ – Parents may be surprised by some of the new rules put in place by the marijuana law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy on Feb. 22, 2021.  The new law strips parents’ right to know if their child has been caught with pot or booze.

The new law allows for possession of up to six ounces of marijuana.  It also decriminalizes drug paraphernalia. And underage drinking.

“While it was not a surprise that the legislation was signed into law, what was a surprise were the changes to marijuana AND underage drinking laws for those under the age of 18,” Center for Prevention and Counseling Executive Director Becky Carlson said. “Many times when a young person is “caught” using a substance, it is not their first time using, it’s just their first time getting caught by an adult. This chance encounter provides an opportunity for early intervention and often involves a caring adult probing to identify the root cause of use such as mental health issues, anxiety, addiction, family issues, etc. and then providing necessary support and community linkage as needed.” 

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“I believe it makes our jobs as police officers much more difficult.,” Newton Police Chief Robert Osborn said. “Most concerning though is the fact that if you find a juvenile with alcohol or marijuana, it does not allow our agency to legally tell the parent of this initial contact.” 

“I am concerned with the environment that it may promote,” Osborn said. “These current restrictions in place run contrary to the policies and procedures of New Jersey police departments and I’m not certain that if people knew of all of these provisions within the law, that they would have voted to legalize it.”

Osborn is concerned about the stipulation against parental notification as well as the changes to probable cause and restrictions to officers’ ability to initiate an investigation, especially with juveniles.

Another feature of the new law is the spotlight shone on penalties for police if civil rights are violated. Something police have “always known to be aware of,” according to Sparta Police Chief Neil Spidaletto.

Officers that ask to search, notify a parent or investigate the smell or sight of marijuana or alcohol can be “criminally charged with depriving their civil rights.”

“This may impact and hinder an officer’s ability to properly do their job and ensure public safety,” Osborn said.

New Laws

Three new laws comprise the new rules about marijuana; Cannabis Legalization, Marijuana Decriminalization and “clarifying other provisions” that deal with “individuals under the age of 21,” according to Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

  • It is not yet legal to purchase pot unless you have a medical marijuana card.  It must be purchased from a license’s medical marijuana dispensary 
  • The “Cannabis Regulatory Committee’ has to be established to promulgate regulations from the new laws. Until this committee issues rules, “as a practical matter, regulated cannabis will not be available in the state for several months,” according to Grewal.
  • When there are legal establishments to purchase marijuana for recreational use it will be called “cannabis.” Any unregulated form of cannabis or medical marijuana will be referred to as marijuana or hashish according to advisories from the state.
  • Users will still have to make their purchases at approved retail sites.
  • Marijuana growers must be licensed.  Individuals cannot grow their own pot.
  • It is not legal to smoke cannabis in public or anywhere cigarette smoking is prohibited.
  • Smelling raw or burnt marijuana is no longer probable cause for a vehicle stop or stopping a pedestrian. Officers must have other “reasonable suspicion” to stop and to search regardless of the age of the driver or pedestrian.

“Parent education, point of sale strategies that reduce access and availability to marijuana, and clear, consistent, messaging regarding the health impacts of youth use of marijuana and alcohol will be essential in the months and years to come in an effort to mitigate the negative effects these changes will have,” Center for Prevention Director of Prevention Services Tina Aue said. 

New Rules for People Under 21Years of Age

According to Grewal, “Law enforcement officers must be cautious when they encounter an individual under the age of 21 who is in possession of marijuana, hashish, cannabis or alcohol.”

While the officer can seize the substances and “issue the appropriate warning,” they are:

  • Prohibited from requesting consent to search from anyone under 21
  • Not allowed to use the smell of burnt or raw marijuana as cause for stop or search
  • Not allowed to stop or search just because the marijuana is in plain site
  • Not allowed to stop or search just because the alcohol is in plain site
  • Not allowed to arrest, detain or otherwise take an individual under the age of 21 into custody for having marijuana or alcohol, except to the extent required to issue a written warning or provide notice of violation to parent.

“Personally, I don’t believe any parent would subscribe or agree with this type of inaction which would prohibit an officer from contacting a parent on a first offense,” Osborn said. “The reason being is that parents should always have the fundamental right to know what their child is involved in.  The ability for a family to get help and assistance as soon as possible for a juvenile in need - should be paramount. 

“Sometimes this mechanism of early intervention is the catalyst in ensuring their immediate or long-term safety.  Such communication with parents is essential.  Support, guidance and setting boundaries should all come from the home front.  Parents should maintain the absolute right of being a crucial part in the equation of raising their own children.”

Video Required

Any officer with a body worn camera must have that camera activated when interacting with anyone regardless of their age when dealing with a cannabis or alcohol related incident, according to Grewal.

The governor signed legislation and an executive order in the fall of 2020 requiring and funding BWCs for every police officer. The Interagency Working Group on BWCs was established for that purpose in November 2020. The state is requiring body cams for all police officers by June 1, 2021.

Community policing has a long history in Newton.

“These laws also present many challenges for New Jersey police officers in relation to the enforcement aspect,” Osborn said. “As a former D.A.R.E. instructor, this goes against the grain of the proactive education and prevention that law enforcement has provided for numerous years.  It is counterproductive and problematic at best.”

The new laws may require a change to some of the processes the Newton Police Department uses when interacting with youth. They currently have tools that allow for leniency when warranted.

“It makes it that much more difficult to prevent further drug abuse amongst adolescents when recreational marijuana is legalized,” Osborn said. “I realize and understand that legislators are currently trying to work through this part of the law and in the interim we will obviously abide by it, but in my opinion, parents should be made aware of when their under age child is smoking marijuana or consuming alcohol.”

The new laws may change all of that. Someone under the age of 21 seen to be intoxicated, whether from alcohol or cannabis, cannot be put into a police car and driven home.  Police cannot call their parents to come pick them up either. Unless that person is known to have had a first offense warning.

Grewal advised police to come up with a way to keep track of warnings to people under the age of 21:

  • A first offense of a minor being caught with cannabis or alcohol will result in a written warning that includes collection of name, address and birthdate, but police are prohibited from telling parents.
  • A second offense results in a similar warning and parents can be notified.  They can also give a copy of the first warning to the parents.  Officers will also give the juvenile information on community drug treatment services.
  • A third offense again results in warning and parental notification for people under 18-years- of age.  For people 18 to 21-years old a copy of the warning goes to the local community drug treatment program.

No one under 21 can be fingerprinted for these offenses, regardless of how many.

The New Jersey League of Municipalities shared guidance on cannabis legalization, including a sample ordinance for local municipal governments to opt-out of allowing cannabis business within their communities.

The new laws allow municipal governments to adopt Opt-Out ordinances but they must do so by August 21, 2021.  After that no change in status can happen for five years.

What the law establishes

  • “Cannabis Café” When there are licensed cannabis retailers or in a medical marijuana dispensary, patrons can consume the product in a designated area inside or outside the establishment.
  • Cannabis Cultivator- pot farmers must have a Class 1 Cannabis Cultivator license to grow, cultivate or produce, sell and transport.  Unlicensed individuals are prohibited from growing, packaging, delivering cannabis.
  • Cannabis Grower- same as Cannabis Cultivator or Cannabis Cultivation Facility
  • Cannabis Manufacturer – entity with a Class 2 Cannabis Manufacturer’s license for cannabis processing, preparing, packaging and sales to wholesalers and retailers but not consumers.
  • Cannabis delivery service- cannabis and “related items” or paraphernalia can be purchased directly from a courier with a “Class 6 Cannabis Deliver license,” for home delivery.
  • Cannabis distributor – a Class 4 Cannabis Distributor license is necessary for bulk intrastate transport of cannabis from one licensed cultivator to another.
  • Cannabis paraphernalia – equipment or products to plant, grow, cultivate, harvest, compound, manufacture, process, prepare, test, analyze and store as well as for “vaporizing, ingesting, inhaling or otherwise introduce into the human body.”
  • Schools and businesses will still have the right to require sobriety in the hallways and classrooms and cubical.

“Local police departments will continue to work with partners at the Center for Prevention, to promote the CLEAR Program, Operation Helping Hand, and the Handle with Care to help those in need,” Spidaletto said.

What is no longer illegal

  • Possession of up to 6 ounces of marijuana,
  • Possession of up to 17 grams of hashish
  • Being under the influence of marijuana or hashish,
  • Failure to properly dispose of marijuana or hashish
  • Possession of paraphernalia for marijuana or hashish
  • Possession of marijuana or hashish as a motor vehicle operator

Police will not be allowed to detain, arrest or take into custody anyone for simple possession of more than 6 ounces of marijuana or 17 grams of hashish.  They can take down personal information and give them a written warning for the first offense. A second offense, as long as police have proof of the first offense, will be a fourth degree crime, according to Grewal.

Dismissal of Prior or Pending Marijuana Charges

Grewal issued a directive on Feb. 22, 2021, as the governor signed the new laws, calling for prosecutors to “dismiss pending marijuana related charges,” including some charges related to possession, distribution or being under the influence of marijuana or hashish, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of [marijuana or hashish] in a vehicle, disorderly person.

Where cases are already resolved, “the Administrative Office of the Courts will vacate…any guilty verdict, plea, placement in a diversionary program” for conduct prior to Feb. 22, 2021.

Related convictions, remaining sentences, ongoing supervision or court ordered fines will be vacated for anyone in jail, on probation or other community supervision.