Police, pot & problems with youth: Will summer 2022 be a repeat?
TRENTON – The first summer after marijuana decriminalization was a frustrating one for police along the Jersey Shore, feeling hamstrung by rules limiting their interactions with youth lighting up along the boardwalk.
Now less than four weeks until the first summer after the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, which is supposed to be limited to adults, lawmakers are warning the issues that caused headaches in 2021 haven’t been resolved.
Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, said police officers remain worried that they’ll be accused of deprivation of civil rights and are still being advised by lawyers not to approach people who might be a minor for public use of marijuana.
“Under 21, the police are really loath – they’re scared that they could really be charged with a criminal complaint,” O’Scanlon said at a Tuesday budget hearing.
“We sort of did a faux solution that: Oh, cops are now allowed to talk to parents for instance,” O’Scanlon said. “But if they’re not talking to the individuals using in the first place, there will be no conversation with parents.”
Acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin said decriminalization is over a year old now and guidance is available letting police know how they are to interact with minors or adults with marijuana.
“It’s true there are more restrictions now in terms of what they can do, in terms of searches, but they’re still allowed to talk to individuals who are using marijuana in public places,” Platkin said.
Sen. Mike Testa, R-Cumberland, said a bipartisan group of Shore mayors met in February to talk about ways to avoid a repeat of last year’s rampant use of marijuana and alcohol by young people on their boardwalks. He said things got so bad some towns were shutting their boardwalks after hours.
Testa urged Platkin to meet with them to hear the fears and concerns of the police.
“You don’t know whether someone’s a juvenile or not when you first approach them,” Testa said. “Their frustration level was very high.”
Platkin said he recognizes that legalization and decriminalization present a significant challenge for law enforcement. He said he’s willing to meet with police chiefs and officers, pointing to last week’s policy revision allowing police to chase suspected car thieves as proof he listens and adapts.
“As it relates to cannabis or marijuana usage on boardwalks or in public places, first of all, that’s not legal,” Platkin said. “And if there are issues, we will certainly listen to the input from chiefs and will provide guidance as necessary.”