SEASIDE HEIGHTS, NJ – Legalized marijuana in New Jersey could transform the Jersey Shore into one huge summer-long pot party and there’s nothing police or local beachfront municipalities can do about it. Under the law, police can no longer make an arrest of anyone carrying less than six ounces of marijuana without penalty. They cannot initiate an interaction with an offender based only upon smelling marijuana either. Worse, if minors are caught with marijuana, police are barred from notifying their parents or taking any action. Even worse, the state’s largest police union has just told the police community not to even bother with marijuana-related offenses unless you want to risk your career…or worse, be thrown in jail.
Yes, that’s the new reality New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has just delivered to the Jersey Shore.
It could be a summer like never before here at the Jersey Shore. While the majority of New Jersey voters supported legalized marijuana in the state, many were not expecting the law to create loopholes for minors or the criminalization of policing the state.
Murphy’s bill contradicts a prior law he signed in 2019 that banned smoking tobacco products on beaches and boardwalks, but now that law may be essentially unenforceable when it comes to smoking marijuana on beaches and boardwalks.
Nevermind that the state’s ill-conceived rollout of legalized marijuana turns cops into criminals. It establishes a legal set of enforcement powers, but it criminalizes the actual enforcement of those powers. If a cop wrongly accuses a person of an alleged marijuana-related violation, the law enforcement officer can be fined up to $15,000 and face 3-5 years in prison. Why would any police officer risk his job going forward to enforce any smoking or marijuana laws?
The New Jersey State PBA summed up the law.
“Underage users of marijuana will now be free to smoke it anywhere, including in places the (law) says is illegal, because merely stopping a person to enforce the law is now illegal for police,” the NJPBA said in a statement. “Drug dealers will quickly learn to hide their drugs, guns and evidence of crimes on anyone under 18 years of age since merely lighting a joint as the officer approaches will put the officer in jeopardy of making an illegal search and being charged criminally.”
This brings us to the Jersey Shore. With police gunshy about enforcing the New Jersey marijuana law, the Jersey Shore could soon become the Jamaica of the north.
“We are urging every member of law enforcement to avoid approaching people with marijuana until a proper legal analysis and direction can be developed once this law is signed by the Governor,” the PBA said in a statement to all officers in New Jersey.
“It establishes penalties of only warnings for illegal use by minors of marijuana or alcohol BUT it essentially prevents an officer from even approaching a person suspected of being a minor. Absent the commission of another crime or clear legal guidance officers are being forced to ask themselves if writing a warning is worth risking being accused and charged with a 3rd-degree crime?” the PBA said.
The response by the PBA is both natural and expected. You cannot fault a single police officer for not bothering to investigate illegal marijuana use by your kids at the risk of his career. Nobody would do that.
The law and the response by law enforcement set up a very predictable outcome for the Jersey Shore. It is now the seaside pot party of the entire United States. Come one, come all.
Towns like Seaside Heights which have been struggling to present a more family-oriented atmosphere can kiss that goodbye. Ocean City might be alcohol-free, but it will not be marijuana-free this summer. After a hard-hit season in 2020, the Jersey Shore’s final hope in 2021 could simply be the pot tourism capital of America, because many families will opt for vacations elsewhere if the stench of marijuana overpowers the smell of the fresh salty air and grilling sausages.
Several years ago the state passed a boardwalk and beach anti-smoking law. Many municipalities also passed anti-smoking laws on the beach and boardwalk, but those laws only apply to tobacco products. Should a municipality amend its law to include marijuana, that municipality could also be sued now for violating civil rights…even then, the law, according to the statute would not be enforceable.
Now, it will be a wait-and-see game as COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed. Will vacationers continue coming to the Jersey Shore if it devolves into a playground for the marijuana industry?