I thought I had written my last letter on legalizing marijuana, however I must pen this letter after reading our elected officials’ final outcome on the recreational use of marjuana. This bill has made it lawful for children to openly consume marijuana or alcohol in public, and unlawful for police or parents to protect children from drug or alcohol abuse. If police observe minors smoking a joint or drinking from a fifth of Johnnie Walker whiskey, they cannot approach or investigate for fear of being charged with a third-degree penalty for deprivation of civil rights, facing a $15,000 fine and three to five years in prison. It is also unlawful for police to use odor or possession of marijuana or alcohol by a child as a reason for initiating a stop or notifying their parents of drug or alcohol abuse, under penalty of law.
In short, your kids can be drunk or high, seen smoking weed or consuming alcohol on school property, and police can do nothing about it. This bill is tying the hands of law enforcement. Drug dealers will use this new law to their advantage to hide large amounts of marijuana by simply lighting up a joint, thereby preventing police from questioning them under the law. I must repeat myself, saying this new bill will be a nightmare for law enforcement. I predict because of this new law deaths involving teenagers and adults driving vehicles will soar. When this comes to pass, our legislators and governor will have to bear the burden in an election year.
In closing, if I were still Montclair’s chief of police, I would be hard-pressed not to issue an executive order alerting all police officers to avoid approaching or investigating underaged children suspected of abusing marijuana or alcohol, and let the chips fall where they may.
I know I do not stand alone in my professional opinion on this matter and speak for those people who for various reasons are afraid to voice their opinions.
As the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police said, “Simply put, our communities will be less safe and our children more at risk.”
Editor’s note: Under legislation passed in February, it remains unlawful for those under 21 to possess and consume alcohol and marijuana, but young people found with either face civil, not criminal, penalties. The law also prevents police from stopping someone based on the smell of marijuana, and allows charges against officers who knowingly violate the rights of a young person while issuing a warning for use.
Thomas J. Russo
Former chief of police and director of public safety
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