Republican state senators introduce bill to change some aspects of marijuana law
New Jersey’s Republican lawmakers are working to address what they say is another flaw in recently enacted marijuana legislation.
GOP state senators say that police officers could be charged with a crime if they mistakenly detain people under 21 on suspicion of possessing marijuana. Marijuana is only legal for adults 21 and older under the law.
“I think it was intentional. I think they decided to do police reform along with marijuana reform. And they made a mess,” says Republican state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon.
O’Scanlon added, “We can't sacrifice good cops in order to impact the behavior of bad cops. And it's going to be always a balance, but we need to be very careful. And there always will be that balance.”
The senator says that the so-called cleanup bill that paved the way for legal cannabis in New Jersey means that officers who mistakenly stop those under 21 on suspicion of marijuana and alcohol could be charged with deprivation of civil rights.
“You could have a situation, any situation, where a cop detains a group of people that he believes are young people and any of them can make the accusation,” he says. “And God knows whether it sticks. It becomes a ‘he said he said, she said she said’ situation. We need those clear lines in order to protect our police officers.”
O'Scanlon and state Sen. Anthony Bucco Jr. are backing a bill that would eliminate that part of the new law, and would restore protections for officers for marijuana and alcohol stops done in good faith.
“It's a standard that's worked for alcohol…We're not reinventing the wheel here. We're just saying that rather than eliminate the standard for everything, we should have taken the standard that's applied to alcohol and apply that to marijuana as well,” O’Scanlon says.
The bill has yet to be scheduled for a hearing, and its path forward is unclear in the Democratic-controlled state Senate.