March 2, 2021
ROBBINSVILLE, NJ (MERCER)–Robbinsville Mayor Dave Fried and Township Police Chief Chris Nitti released a combined statement in regards to recently signed marijuana legalization law. In addition below are statements from the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police and the NJ State PBA on the marijuana law. Information also provided below from NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and a link to the resource page for NJ police officers.
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.
Statement of New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police
Today, the NJ Legislature approved, and Governor Murphy signed into law Assembly Bill
5342 in an attempt to decriminalize the use and possession of cannabis. The New Jersey State
Association of Chiefs of Police has been supportive of the decriminalization of cannabis for
adults and has recognized the importance of eliminating racial disparities that
disproportionately impact individuals of color in the context of antiquated drug
laws. However, the enactment of this legislation requires the Association to object strongly.
This legislation will severely impair the ability of law enforcement to surveil and police the
illegal drug market, underage possession and consumption of alcohol and tobacco and
criminalize very common and overwhelmingly non-controversial policing strategies. Under
this new law, a law enforcement officer is subject to criminal prosecution if he or she even
asks a minor or young adult under the age of 21 to consent to a search or otherwise conducts
such a search despite reasonable suspicious activity, such as the odor of alcohol or
marijuana. However, there are no tools available for an officer to know the ages of
individuals that may be encountered. An honest mistake in ascertaining someone’s age,
intentions or degree of impairment subjects the officer to prosecution for a crime. As a result,
an officer risks criminal liability for engaging with a class of individuals who may be breaking
the law or who may be engaged in the illegal drug market by utilizing persons under the age
of 21. We believe this severely limits the ability of our agencies to police our parks, schools,
beaches, and communities effectively, thereby increasing the risks to public safety, the risks to
children from illicit drugs and alcohol and the risks to society from criminal drug activity
cloaked by cannabis.
Although far from perfect, New Jersey has long been a progressive policing jurisdiction. This
Association supports decriminalization for adult use cannabis and our members work daily
across the state to increase positive interactions between law enforcement and the
communities we serve. We strive to increase the professionalism and training of our officers
and agencies while recognizing that there are bad actors in all occupations and walks of life
and such individuals deserve to meet the consequence of the law. However, criminalizing
honest and well-intended law enforcement is not the way to cure our society from the ills of
racial disparities and hundreds of years of systemic racism. Simply put, our communities will
be less safe and our children more at risk.
This document contains frequently asked questions (FAQs) to address some of the substantial issues, concerns, and situations that will arise for law enforcement as we all strive to understand, implement, and apply the new cannabis legalization and marijuana decriminalization laws. We anticipate expanding the FAQs as we encounter additional, and more subtle and complex, issues and gain experience and insight into the challenges presented by the new laws.
- What should an officer do if they smell marijuana coming from a vehicle during a motor vehicle stop?
First, the officer should take the traditional investigative steps to determine if there is probable cause to believe that the driver is operating the vehicle while under the influence, in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. If so, the driver may be arrested and the vehicle may be searched. If the driver is not found to be under the influence, the new laws are clear that the odor of marijuana, either burned or raw, by itself does not establish reasonable suspicion to justify a continued stop, nor probable cause to conduct a search of the vehicle or the person, in a marijuana possession case or even in a low-level (fourth-degree) possession with intent to distribute marijuana case. As a result, the vehicle and occupants must be released once the initial reason for the stop has been addressed.
- May an officer initiate or continue a pedestrian stop of an individual based on the officer detecting the odor of marijuana?
No, the new laws are clear that the odor of marijuana, either burned or raw, by itself does not establish reasonable suspicion to justify or continue a pedestrian stop. In addition, the odor of marijuana by itself does not establish probable cause to conduct a search in a marijuana possession case or even a low-level (fourth-degree) possession with intent to distribute marijuana case. The age of the person being stopped is irrelevant in these situations.
- What happens when a law enforcement officer encounters an individual under the age of 21 who is in possession of marijuana, hashish, cannabis, or alcohol?
Law enforcement officers must be cautious when they encounter an individual under the age of 21 who is in possession of marijuana, hashish, cannabis, or alcohol. The officer can seize the marijuana, hashish, cannabis, and alcohol and issue the appropriate written warning. However, the new law also sets forth the following prohibitions on officers when investigating possession or consumption of marijuana, hashish, cannabis, or alcohol by an underage individual to determine a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:33-15:
• Officers may not request consent from an individual who is under the age of 21;
• Officers may not use odor of marijuana to stop an individual who is under the age of 21 or to search the individual’s personal property or vehicle;
• Officers who observe marijuana in plain view will not be able to search the individual or the individual’s personal property or vehicle.
• Officers may not arrest, detain, or otherwise take an individual under the age of 21 into custody for a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:33-15 except to the extent required to issue a written warning or provide notice of a violation to a parent/guardian
- Does the new law alter the use of my body worn camera (BWC) in any way?
The law requires that whenever an officer is equipped with a BWC, the BWC must be activated when responding to or handling a call involving a violation or suspected violation of the amended N.J.S.A. 2C:33-15, which addresses the underage possession or consumption of alcohol, marijuana, hashish, or cannabis. The BWC may not be deactivated for any reason throughout the entire encounter. Underage refers to people under the age of 21.
- How does decriminalization and legalization change fingerprinting?
Marijuana is still by definition pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-2 a “controlled dangerous substance,” and, therefore, appropriately charged violations involving marijuana or hashish are still subject to fingerprint compliance under N.J.S.A. 53:1-18.1. However, when law enforcement officers encounter an individual who has violated N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(b)(12)(b) (distribution/possession with intent to distribute 1 ounce or less) or N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(3)(b) (possession of more than 6 ounces), the officer is prohibited under the law from arresting, detaining, or otherwise bringing that individual into the station, which means the officer will be unable to fingerprint the violator at the time of the incident. Therefore, those individuals must be fingerprinted at their first court appearance.
Individuals under the age of 21 who are in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:33-15(a)(1) are precluded from being fingerprinted under the new law