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NJ Law Preventing Parental Notification of Minors’ Drug Busts: Why Cops Can Ignore this Crazy Law

March 9, 2021 by in "Two Minute Takeaway"

Many parents and police in New Jersey were recently shocked to the learn that the State’s new cannabis legalization law prohibits cops from informing parents of their kid’s first drug bust, and dramatically reduces penalties for under-age possession or use of marijuana.  But as explained below, police should ignore this dumb parental-notification restriction and continue to use their discretion to inform parents of suspicions that their children are possessing or using marijuana.  The text of the law is available here

The New Law Effectively Legalizes Pot Possession and Use by Children of Any Age

The new law imposes laughably minor penalties for under-age possession and use of marijuana.  For the first violation by a minor of any age, the only consequence is a write-up memorializing the infraction.  Incredibly, the law specifically prohibits police from providing parents with a copy of the written notification of this initial violation.

The penalty for a second under-age bust is another write-up, but this time both the first and the second write-ups are to be provided to a parent or legal guardian.

Only after the third violation is any penalty imposed, but the law reduces the previous $250 fine for under-age alcohol use or possession to just $50.  Such fine may be imposed only after a “summary proceeding before either the municipal court having jurisdiction or the Superior Court.”  

Further, the new law specifically prohibits police from using the smell of marijuana as a basis to stop, question, or search a minor suspected of possessing or using marijuana.  That’s right, the most distinctive and inculpatory characteristic of this controlled substance — its unique and pungent odor — cannot serve as a legal basis for police to suspect its presence in the hands of a minor.   

Given the heightened obstacles to suspecting its possession or use, the expanded “three-bust” process required to reach a penalty, and the dramatically reduced monetary penalty available in any event, it is not hyperbole to say that Governor Murphy and the State Legislature have effectively legalized possession and use of marijuana by children of any age.

Silver Lining: the Law May Actually Encourage Parental Notification 

Ironically, the law is so cumbersome that it may actually undermine the “no parental notice” provision that engendered much outrage. 

Police, after all, are not prohibited from notifying parents about concerns about their children.  Rather, under the new law police are only prohibited from providing parents with the “written” notification of the initial bust if they want the initial bust to serve as the necessary predicate for a second and then third bust.  But since the enforcement hurdles for these busts are so high and the ultimate deterrent/penalty so low, it makes sense for police to abandon the whole scheme and just go ahead and notify parents, either orally or in writing, of the initial bust.  Who cares if they forego the chance to obtain a $50 fine two busts later??  

Hopefully, therefore, police will largely ignore this new law and continue to exercise their discretion informing parents of young children suspected of possessing and using marijuana.  Indeed, it is conceivable that this law will actually increase the use of immediate parental notification, as such notification is likely the greatest immediate deterrent available to police after enactment of this Rube Goldberg law.