NJ Top News 4/5 – Democrats Bow to Parental Pressure Over Weed Notifications
Following almost two weeks of angry outcries from New Jersey parents and law enforcement, Democrats who control the Legislature are backpedaling on a provision in new marijuana laws that prohibit police from notifying parents if they catch underage kids smoking weed or drinking alcohol.
Democratic leaders have largely been silent though the controversy. Members of the Legislative Black Caucus and Legislative Latino Caucus insisted on a wide ranging decriminalization bill or they would have pulled their support from legislation setting up New Jersey's legal marijuana marketplace. The chairmen of both caucus groups now signal they will support parental notification.
State Sens. Ron Rice, D-Essex, and Nellie Pou, D-Passaic, told the New Jersey Globe they now support repealing the ban on notifications.
The decriminalization bill was a messy compromise that had the backing of the Black Legislative Caucus. Members successfully killed any attempt to impose fines or penalties for underage use. They claimed police would use those provisions to unfairly stop and fine minority youth more often than whites under the age of 21.
Assemblyman Jamal Holley, D-Union, said it was about social justice, "ensuring that juveniles in our most struggling communities are no longer unfairly targeted." Holley has not said if he will support legislation allowing police to communicate weed use to parents.
Gov. Phil Murphy has also not commented on the legislation. He tried, unsuccessfully, for weeks to include some penalties for underage drug use. He eventually went along with the controversial decriminalization bill as written.
State Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, and Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, confirm they are working on legislation that would permit parental notification but the bills have not been drafted, so the specific details are not known. That would bypass legislation already in the works from Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union.
Republicans had been raising alarm about the parental notification ban ahead of the vote, but Democrats rejected the criticism. Now, under tremendous pressure from the public, they are claiming they never intended parents be cut out of the process. Gopal issued a statement saying, "It is still illegal for minors to possess or consume (marijuana). If a minor is caught with these substances, we want their parents to know about it right away.”
While Democrats appear ready to reinstate a parent's right to know about underage drug use, they will apparently leave a provision that says the smell of marijuana or alcohol is no longer probable cause to begin an investigation or search a vehicle. The New Jersey State PBA called the provision "an attack on law enforcement" that will "have dangerous consequences" for the public and the police. Union leaders have been telling their members to essentially ignore any suspected marijuana crimes. The new laws create severe criminal penalties for officers who do not follow the new rules.
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