Statement from Mayor/Public Safety Director Dave Fried and Robbinsville Township Police Chief Chris Nitti on the Recently Signed Marijuana Legalization Law
Gov. Phil Murphy recently signed three bills into law decriminalizing marijuana and directs convictions and/or pending cases for marijuana possession be dismissed.
None of this came as a surprise, since an overwhelming majority of New Jersey residents recently voted to have marijuana legalized in our state. As an elected official and the Director of Public Safety for Robbinsville Township, I fully support the will of the people – as does Chief Chris Nitti.
As loving parents, we have the right to know when our children are involved in dangerous situations. Like many of you, we are concerned about some of the other aspects of the legalization bill. When officers now encounter juveniles who are in possession of marijuana and/or alcohol, the following restrictions now apply:
- The odor of marijuana and/or alcohol no longer constitutes “reasonable articulable suspicion” to initiate the stop of a person under the age of 21, and it no longer provides probable cause to search that person’s personal property and/or vehicle.
- The unconcealed possession of an alcoholic beverage and/or marijuana observed in “plain sight” shall no longer constitute “probable cause” to initiate a search of a person under the age of 21, or that person’s personal property and/or vehicle to determine a violation of any law.
- A person under the age of 21 who possesses marijuana and/or alcoholic beverages shall no longer be arrested, detained, or otherwise taken into custody “except to the extent required to issue a written warning.”
- For any person under the age of 21 who possesses marijuana and/or alcoholic beverages as a first offense, these new laws forbid officers to contact his/her parent or guardian to advise him or her of such.
To apply these new laws to a “real-life” situation, if an officer observes a juvenile of any age consuming alcohol and/or smoking marijuana in violation of the law, that officer CAN NOT contact the juvenile’s parent or guardian unless this behavior has been previously documented. Unless that child chooses to share this information, his or her parents or guardians will never know.
Most problematic is the inability of the police to freely communicate with the parents and guardians of our children. The Robbinsville Township Police Department has always sought to divert juveniles from the criminal justice system by pursuing “non-punitive” measures for the vast majority of offenses. Only in the most serious of situations does it ever pursue juvenile delinquency complaints against children.
Statewide mandates regarding transparency required from law enforcement no longer apply regarding police interaction with kids. The RTPD has always worked closely with school officials to keep our children safe, to ensure there are open lines of communication with parents and guardians, and to provide referrals and access to programs and services that empower healthy, sound and safe decision-making. Aspects of this new law are counterproductive to years of relationship and trust-building. Most importantly, it is a serious detriment to safety and well-being of our children.
One of the RPD’s greatest strengths has been its renewed ability to foster positive relationships within the community, our juveniles in particular. Full-time School Resource Officers (SROs) are in all of our schools, in addition to the implementation of initiatives such as Coffee With a Cop, the Good Behavior Citation program, the RTPD Youth Academy and the S-T-A-R (Stop, Think, Act, Reflect) program, formerly known as D-A-R-E- (Drug Abuse Resistance Education).
The priorities of the RTPD will never change, even if the means of achieving its goals of safety and security for all just may have to.
Thank you all. Please stay safe.