A bill that would allow police to notify parents if their son or daughter was caught underage with marijuana or alcohol has been approved by the State Senate and is on its way to the Governor.

If the Governor signs off on it, juveniles caught with marijuana or alcohol would have their parents notified on the first offense and each one after that rather than waiting until the second offense as was written in the Marijuana Law earlier this year.

While A-5472/S-3565, a bipartisan bill, awaits Governor Murphy's signature, Senator Anthony Bucco (R-Morris County) and Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth County) do support the change but they say it's not enough as it "fails to address impractical complications in the laws which could brand law enforcement officers as criminals for minor procedural gaffes committed during interactions with minors."

As the Law currently states, police/law enforcement is subject to 3rd Degree Crimes for Deprivation of Civil Rights for initiating an investigation into underage use and face possible prison time, a hefty fine and being sued in civil court with no immunity or protection, which was removed by this bill and bills that accompanied it.

“This is a step in the right direction for New Jersey families, but to be frank, this legislation misses a major problem when it comes to fixing this mess,” Senator Bucco said . “For parents to be notified, police would have to be willing to risk criminal penalties when interacting with juveniles suspected of using or possessing marijuana or alcohol. Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are willing to fix a very important component of the problem that they’ve created, but their prioritization of the parental notification fix is a smoke screen that distracts from the nebulous conditions they have created that could easily ruin an officer’s career if not navigated flawlessly.”

Senator O’Scanlon said more needs to be done to protect police officers from unfair criminal prosecutions when they encounter underage individuals in possession of marijuana or alcohol.

“Any improvement to the parental notification law is hollow if Trenton doesn’t address this underlying atrocity,” O’Scanlon said in a statement. “I am pleased to see my Democrat colleagues recognizing some of the flaws in their recently enacted law, but even with this fix to allow appropriate parental notification, the third degree criminal charge hanging over officers’ heads is enough to discourage anyone from investigating underage possession complaints altogether. The irony here, is that this was done under the guise of social justice and police reform. The Democrats have made it impossible for police to conduct an investigatory stop. They call this an equitable solution for everyone, but fail to recognize the extremely unjustified outcomes for police just trying to do the right thing.”

O'Scanlon explains that the cannabis laws signed by Governor Murphy include a provision leaving open the possibility of a law enforcement officer facing criminal charges if they knowingly, but not necessarily intentionally, violate any of the new procedural requirements.

“The intent is key,” O’Scanlon said. “How can we expect to maintain the safety and order of our neighborhoods and cities if police officers are tarred and feathered for an innocuous action in the performance of their duties?”

If an officer is accused of detaining a person longer than necessary to investigate a complaint, they may be sentenced to between three and five years in prison and have to pay a $15,000 fine.

“Of course, we want officers to follow proper protocol at all times, but there has to be some proportionality between the violation and the punishment,” Bucco said. “In a split second, an unintentional mistake could land an otherwise exemplary officer in prison for years, even if no actual harm came to anyone during the interaction. This extreme penalty is unnecessary, just like another provision crammed into the new law that prohibits law enforcement from notifying a minor’s parents the first time they are found with liquor or marijuana.”

O’Scanlon and Bucco are sponsoring legislation, S-3577, that would prevent "the legalizing of pot from becoming an attack on law enforcement and shielding them from irrational criminal charges."

You can follow Vin Ebenau on Twitter and Instagram and email news tips to vin.ebenau@townsquaremedia.com.

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