Op-Ed by Senator Declan O’Scanlon
Two-faced. This is the word that first comes to mind when I try to describe to family and friends as to what happened with the recent passage of our marijuana laws here in New Jersey. After the abysmal failure of Trenton Democrats to garner enough support from their own members to pass sensible cannabis legislation, it was punted to the voters in a ballot question.
The public overwhelmingly voted in favor of a nebulous constitutional amendment that should have given all the political cover needed for Governor Murphy and legislative Democrats to set up a sensible legal framework for a cannabis marketplace.
It was a straight forward mandate from the public with which the Trenton Democrats couldn’t comply without over-taxing, over-complicating and over-regulating. The first two pieces of legislation passed this year relating to legalization and decriminalization were a mess. The attempt to reconcile those bills made things even worse.
We never received a mandate to try to fix ongoing policing problems with a marijuana bill. We never received a mandate that had anything to do with alcohol. So I am dumbfounded as to why this became one of the most crucial components to cannabis legalization.
The law that recently passed is one of the most unworkable and counter-productive pieces of legislation that I have ever seen. My dear friend and colleague Jon Bramnick said, “Trenton can do some crazy stuff, but this takes the cake.”
First, this new law creates a low threshold of criminal liability for police who have the decency to investigate underage youth use of alcohol or marijuana. Second, it bars the police from informing parents of their children’s use if they are caught.
Cumulatively, this will have the effect of eliminating a critical component of the public service and function of law enforcement.
Think about it practically, like this: a parent who lost a close family member to alcoholism and who is justly concerned about identifying such a proclivity early in their own children will be left, intentionally, in the dark by this law.
Good luck if you live by a college party house or in a college or shore town.
Some of the same legislators who screamed bloody murder about the need for anti-hazing legislation to protect students from forced underage drinking voted in favor of this bill.
Any legislator who voted for this bill that ever expresses concern about youth substance abuse disorders again should begin speaking with a disclaimer: “I am a hypocrite.”
Any legislator who expressed past concern about youth drug or alcohol use who voted for this bill is speaking out of both sides of their mouth.
My Sheriff in Monmouth County, along with many police chiefs and officers around the state, has been unequivocally clear: This law is unworkable in its current form, a threat to the public safety, and exposes law enforcement to frivolous criminal liability.
Next week, Assembly Republican Leader John Bramnick and I, along with other Republican colleagues, will introduce bills to fix this lunacy. One bill will restore the police liability protections, and the other will permit police to notify parents of youth marijuana and alcohol use through a variety of means.
I encourage all my colleagues in the legislature to join us in this endeavor, and particularly any Democrat looking to restore their ability to lay claim to caring about youth substance abuse.