New Jersey Alters Marijuana Laws for Underage Smokers
Just because New Jersey legalized marijuana doesn’t mean everyone in the Garden State can smoke it. The marijuana laws for underage users are about to get a little stricter.
While the legalization measures passed in November 2020 meant that only adults would be allowed to use cannabis, police that catch kids in possession of alcohol or marijuana are only allowed to issue a written warning on the first offense. The parents are to be contacted only after the second offense.
Underage drinking and marijuana use are essentially the same crime in the eyes of New Jersey law. Minors caught with either alcohol or marijuana are not fined but issued a written warning after their first offense. The second offense notifies parents and supplies them with information about community programs educating youth on substance use. If the child is caught with alcohol or marijuana a third time, they are obligated to enroll in one of those programs.
Now this seems likely to change. The New Jersey Senate and Assembly recently passed legislation that would obligate police to tell the parents of someone under 18 years old the first time the child was caught in possession of weed or alcohol. Governor Phil Murphy is expected to sign the bill into law.
Proponents of the less punitive response to minor offenses cite how marijuana laws have disproportionately targeted black and brown people, despite white people using marijuana at the same rate, and how drug arrests do little to deter drug use.
There seems to have been little resistance in altering this particular piece of legislation, however, as both the Senate and Assembly chambers passed the new measure unanimously.
That said, some lawmakers believe these changes don’t go far enough. “There’s nothing in this bill that says, if you notify a parent, it goes by registered mail,” Republican Senator Robert Singer told Asbury Park Press. “How do you know if they got it? There’s nothing in this bill that says, if a youth gives you a false name and address, you can prove it’s a real one. All this bill is doing is [making a] smoke screen to what has to be fixed.”
Many parents, law enforcement officers, and lawmakers see this new “clean-up” bill as a win. “Marijuana was legalized for adults, not for children or teenagers,” Democrat Senator Vin Gopal stated. “Parents need to be notified if their underage child is using marijuana or alcohol so they can take the appropriate steps to protect them from the potential harmful effects of substance use at young ages and to help them make responsible decisions.”
Marijuana and alcohol misuse at a young age can have negative long-term effects on the brain. Underage drinking, in particular, is often a precursor for alcoholism in adulthood. Heavy marijuana use during childhood or adolescence is associated with higher likelihood of dropping out of school, unemployment, and general life satisfaction later in life.
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