NJ police frustrated with legislation they say decriminalizes alcohol, marijuana for minors

A young person smokes a marijuana joint.
A young person smokes a marijuana joint. Photo credit theprint/Getty Images

BARNEGAT TOWNSHIP, N.J. (KYW Newsradio) — Police in New Jersey said the state's new marijuana laws have effectively decriminalized underage drinking and keep parents in the dark.

Lawmakers in New Jersey have removed any penalties for underage drinking, and Barnegat Township Police Chief Keith Germain said the legislature has been clear about punishing cops for interactions with minors who are drinking or smoking, and prohibits police from telling the parents.

"Police chiefs, in general, have been supportive of the idea of decriminalizing cannabis for adults and dealing with these equity issues," he said.

"The big problem we have here is that you have legislation which effectively decriminalized alcohol and marijuana or cannabis for kids. I mean, that's what this is. There's no other way to look at it."

Germain, a board member with the State Association of Chiefs of Police, said the new law only allows police to issue a written warning to a child caught drinking or smoking and police are prohibited from telling the parents.

"If you read this law, the only interpretation I can have is they believe the greatest threat to kids is we need to protect them from the police. So I'm still trying to wrap my brain around that one."

Voters overwhelmingly approved adult use of cannabis on Election Day, but Germain said they didn't vote to decriminalize pot and alcohol for minors or keep secrets from parents.

"It's going to allow for more use and abuse," he predicted. "I think it would defy logic to think otherwise."

Germain said he has no idea what lawmakers were thinking when they approved this bill.

"I wouldn't want to call this an unintended consequence because I don't see how you could pass this legislation unless it was intentional."