NJ’s New Laws on Marijuana — An ‘Open Call’ for Minors to Try It?
New Jersey's legal marijuana industry permits purchase and usage by those aged 21 and older.
But what happens when someone younger than 21 is found in possession of pot, or smoking it?
Not much, according to advocates and officials in the Garden State who are concerned about how minors may digest New Jersey's new cannabis rules.
"To me, it's like an open call to kids to go ahead and try it," said Ezra Helfand, executive director of the Wellspring Center for Prevention in East Brunswick. "I'm concerned about what's going to happen in and around schools."
Someone younger than 21 caught with any amount of marijuana, cannabis, hashish or alcohol in any public place, including a school, gets a written warning for a first offense, under New Jersey's updated laws. That warning must include the person’s name, address and date of birth. But it will not be sent or provided to a parent or guardian.
Upon a second offense by someone younger than 18, the parents or guardian of that individual would be notified. Minors with a second offense will also be given materials on community drug treatment services.
Under the new law, officers are not supposed to ask a minor about possession, even if certain substances are in plain sight.
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, has announced that he's drafting a proposed law that would restore the ability of New Jersey police to notify parents upon an initial incident.
“Handcuffing law enforcement from notifying parents if they find a child using drugs or alcohol is irresponsible and dangerous,” Bramnick said. “Parents should know if their children break the law. Leaving parents out of the equation has nothing to do with social justice.”
Angelo Valente, executive director of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, noted "conclusive research" is lacking on the true impact of marijuana use on the developing brain.
"A young person's brain is developing well into their early 20s," Valente said. "What we do know is cannabis use by adolescents does impact their reaction time, coordination, concentration."
Valente said parents should use this time, before the state's recreational market gets up and running, to discuss drug-use with their children.
When asked about concerns from parents and advocates, Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday insisted that New Jersey "did not legalize weed for kids."
"We had unholy laws" that disproportionately impacted young people of color, Murphy said.
Erin Vogt contributed to this article.