Editor’s note: The following is Patch Field Editor Russ Crespolini’s, hopefully, weekly column. It is reflective of his opinion alone.
After three years of back and forth, and with an enormous amount of pomp and circumstance, Governor Phil Murphy signed a package of bills that makes marijuana legal in New Jersey for adults to use for recreational use.
And in a stunning turn of events, police officers don’t like it.
From those I’ve spoken to and those I’ve seen post across social media in various official capacities, there are two primary reasons for this. The first is that the decriminalization bill bars police from detaining minors and contacting parents to inform them if their child is drunk or high.
This head scratcher actually makes it so officers could face criminal penalties themselves if they do tell parents.
Now, they don’t get sent along their merry way indefinitely. It requires them to issue a warning on a first offense. For a second offense, notification would be given if the child is under 18. A third offense triggers a referral to drug education or treatment.
This is a mistake.
If an underage child is caught breaking the law in almost any other circumstances parents would be informed, as they are responsible for that child in every sense of the word. It also opens up the police to prosecution if they make an error which is certainly possible without an instantly accessible database of warnings.
How anyone thinks this is a good idea has never met or spent any significant amount of time with a tween or a teenager. This ludicrous provision needs to be changed immediately. Fortunately, Assemblyman Jon Bramnick is working on just such a fix.
“There are virtually no penalties for kids who decide that they want to use marijuana and alcohol,” said Bramnick. “Parents are left out of the equation, and that has nothing to do with social justice. Police and parents will not be able to do anything, and kids will know that. “
On this one, I am in agreement. And I support his efforts to change that.
The other big complaint is that police can no longer search someone’s car or person upon smelling marijuana. The NJ State PBA (police union) put out a Facebook statement, warning police the new law “dangerously ties your hands.”
On this one, the blue is on their own.
Now, an officer cannot miraculously smell marijuana from two towns away and use it as a reason for probable cause to conduct a search. Now, they have to look for signs of impairment. They need to see if they are dealing with a possible drugged driver or user.
Most police departments in 2021 New Jersey have a Drug Recognition Expert or DRE in their department or have a shared service agreement with a department to utilize their services. In fact, I wrote about a local one nine years ago at my first round at Patch.
The process involved intensive training that involved ten days of in-depth classroom training and three days of field experience out in the street. I spoke to a now retired DRE who told me officers were tested using volunteers at a soup kitchen.
“The screening subjects are volunteers who get a $10 gift card to McDonalds and then they are screened in a soup kitchen,” he said. “The officers put them through a 12-step drug evaluation which includes clinical and physical.”
The perceptions were then checked against a urine test to see the officer’s proficiency. After a series of 12 evaluations in the field, the officers then are put through a final examination.
“You really need to be proficient in how to take pulses and blood pressure, the size of pupils and other physical reactions,” he said. “It’s just as important as the ability to interview somebody.”
These officers are what are needed to search for signs of impairment. Make no mistake, this makes their job more challenging. A job that is already difficult. But ultimately, it is worth it.
Because it is also imperative that there are no shortcuts to justice.
Russ Crespolini is a Field Editor for Patch Media, adjunct professor and college newspaper advisor. His columns have won awards from the National Newspaper Association and the New Jersey Press Association.
He writes them in hopes of connecting with readers and engaging with them. And because it is cheaper than therapy. He can be reached at [email protected]