TRENTON — The first summer after the decriminalization of marijuana has been frustrating for police along the Jersey Shore, feeling hamstrung by rules limiting their interactions with young people lighting up along the boardwalk.
Now less than four weeks to the first summer after the legalization of recreational marijuana, which is supposed to be restricted to adults, lawmakers are warning that the issues that caused headaches in 2021 have not been resolved.
Senator Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, said police officers were still worried about being charged with deprivation of civil rights and lawyers were still advising them not to approach people who might be minors for public use of the marijuana.
“Under-21s, the police are really repugnant – they’re scared they could really be charged with a criminal complaint,” O’Scanlon said during a budget hearing on Tuesday.
“We kind of made a fake solution that: oh, cops are now allowed to talk to parents for example,” O’Scanlon said. “But if they don’t talk to the people who are using in the first place, there will be no conversation with the parents.”
Acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin said decriminalization is now over a year old and guidance is available on how police should interact with minors or adults with marijuana.
“It is true that there are more restrictions now in terms of what they can do, in terms of searches, but they are still allowed to speak to people who use marijuana in public places,” said said Platkin.
Sen. Mike Testa, R-Cumberland, said a bipartisan group of Shore mayors met in February to discuss ways to avoid a repeat of the widespread use of marijuana and alcohol by young l year on their walks. He said things were so bad that some towns were closing their walks after hours.
Testa urged Platkin to meet with them to hear police fears and concerns.
“You don’t know if someone is a minor or not when you first approach them,” Testa said. “Their level of frustration was very high.”
Platkin said he recognizes that legalization and decriminalization present a significant challenge for law enforcement. He said he was ready to meet with police chiefs and officers, pointing to last week’s policy revision allowing police to hunt suspected car thieves as proof he is listening and adapting.
“As far as using cannabis or marijuana on boardwalks or in public places, first of all, it’s not legal,” Platkin said. “And if there are any issues, we will certainly listen to feedback from the chefs and provide guidance where necessary.”
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