Murphy Likes Gopal’s Pot Fix


If you’re 17 and get caught smoking pot, mommy and daddy may know about it after all.

“I personally think that’s a step in the right direction,” Gov. Phil Murphy said today, continuing a legal pot debate that seemed to end last month.

But like the odor of marijuana itself, the issue is still around.

The latest drama has to do with penalties for those underage, which is what delayed implementation of legal pot in the first place.

Following weeks of debate and guided by the goal of keeping young people out of the criminal justice system, the governor signed a bill that does more than merely keep “young people out of the criminal justice system.”

It essentially gives them no penalties at all. And the bill’s language also covers underage drinking.

The first offense gets the youthful drinker or pot smoker a warning. Parents or guardians are not notified until a second offense.

This has drawn anticipated outrage from Republicans, some of whom have doubts about legalizing weed in the first place. More than one GOP lawmaker has expressed horror at teens caught smoking a joint and getting away without having their parents know about it.

In the grand scheme of things, this probably is not a major issue. The fortunes of New Jersey are not going to rise or fall on how teen pot users are dealt with.

But it is one of those political issues that resonate with average folk simply because it seems so dopey.  Allowing adults to use recreational pot is one thing, allowing those underage to do so with apparent impunity is something else.

Democrats know this too, although they supported the original bill.

And so it is that Democratic Sen. Vin Gopal of Monmouth County introduced legislation last week to amend the law to allow parental notification.

“Parents should be informed at the first offense,” is part of what the senator says on Facebook.

The governor was asked about the proposal at an event last Friday in Union City and was non-committal.

But his tune changed at today’s briefing. He said he spoke to Senate President Stephen Sweeney about the matter over the weekend and that he likes Gopal’s idea.

This is a slight change in procedure. Like many before him, Murphy usually withholds comment on “pending legislation.” But, one surmises, there are exceptions to every rule.

One man paying attention to the Dems’ confusion on this issue is Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick.

He joked that it’s rare “to see the governor and the Democratic majority reverse course on a bad policy,” adding that he’s encouraged by news reports the Democrats may change the law they just enacted.

In a year in which the governor and all legislators are up for election, you can be sure the Democrats don’t want to see TV ads or campaign fliers featuring teens getting stoned without penalty.

You can expect lawmakers to make this change quickly.

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