Irritability Under a Haze of Legalized Pot

Murphy in Somerset

Phil Murphy deserves to gloat a bit – he did campaign four years ago on legalizing marijuana, which now has been accomplished.

Sure, it took a very long time, but as the days go by and folks are able to legally smoke weed, the delay will seem inconsequential.

Like a number of other issues, this was one where the public was far ahead of the state Legislature.

It was only two years ago that Democrats in the Legislature were afraid to support legalizing pot. It’s hard not to remember a day in March of 2019 when the Senate planned to vote on the pot bill. But by late morning came word that there was not enough support.

About that same time, a Republican told me privately that he didn’t believe polls showing widespread support for legalization. Most people don’t want it, he observed.

Well, a referendum last fall settled the matter. That was the easy way out for Democrats by the way – put it on the ballot instead of making the decision themselves.

Voters approved legalization by more than a 2-1 margin with all 21 counties supporting it.

So, let the governor “spike the football,” which is a phrase he uses a lot.

But wait a minute.

There are aspects of the recent “clean-up” bill that are provoking debate.

From the outset, the governor talked about making pot legal for adults, or mirroring how we handle alcohol – those 21 and older. The idea never had been, he said more than once, to sanction pot smoking by teenagers.

One can take the governor at his word, although the end result here seems to mean that pot smoking will indeed be legal for teens.

Two parts of the “clean-up” bill, which establishes penalties for underage marijuana use, stand out.

One concerns police.

The bill specifically says that the odor of marijuana does not warrant a police investigation. In other words, if police smell marijuana emanating from a group of teens, they would not be allowed to see if any of the youngsters are carrying it.

This is all well and good if you think marijuana should be legal for everyone, but the governor himself has said it should be legal only for adults.

The state PBA already is on record saying enforcing marijuana laws will become so treacherous, police officers would be wise not to bother. This could be just the rhetoric of the moment, but it also seems logical for an officer to avoid what can turn out to be a real mess. The bill does include penalties for officers who wrongly exert their authority when it comes to marijuana investigations.

With that being the case, who can blame an officer for smelling pot from a distance and heading in the opposite direction?

Also drawing fire is a provision that would give minors using pot a warning for offense number one. There would not be parental notification until offense number two.

Many Republicans are upset about this, but to be candid, with the enforcement mechanism so “creative,” warnings and parental notification may be irrelevant anyway.

Some may have no problem with this, but it stands to reason that even most liberal Democrats would not favor pot legalization for literally everyone.

But that seems to be what we are going to have.

So, a clean-up bill to fix the clean-up bill may be warranted.

The governor acknowledged today that there will be “growing pains” with pot legalization and that no solution is “perfect.”
However, he said that prior to the legalization effort, the state had “wholly unfair laws” that pushed many young people – especially minorities – into the criminal justice system.
That page has now been turned, he said, adding that the clean-up bill was the “best common ground” that could be found.
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