Marijuana Legalization Impacts: Considerations for Juveniles and Young Adults Under Age 21

Are kids allowed to use marijuana or drink alcohol?  It may be easier than you think.

After years of talk, it has finally happened: marijuana is legal in New Jersey. On February 22, 2021, Governor Phil Murphy signed three different bills that, together, both legalized marijuana and addressed previous charges and convictions relating to marijuana. That same day, the Attorney General sent out guidance to law enforcement regarding the bills, as well as a directive regarding marijuana charges.

As attorneys who deal with matrimonial and criminal or municipal court matters, marijuana usage comes up a lot in our practice. Therefore, at Daly & Associates, we have been following this issue closely and preparing how to move forward and properly advise both current and future clients. As part of this preparation, this article is the second in our 3-part series addressing marijuana legalization. In this article, we will address considerations regarding juveniles and those under the age of 21 – and the new legal framework’s impact on alcohol use for this class of individuals.

Like alcohol, the “legal age” for using marijuana or “regulated” cannabis is 21 in New Jersey. However, marijuana use is now largely decriminalized, even for juveniles or young adults under age 21. What’s more, rather than create new laws in order to effectuate this decriminalization, the legislature tied the new laws regarding marijuana use to laws regarding alcohol use for those under the age of 21. The results will likely be upsetting to many parents of children under age 21.

Under the new framework, the law distinguishes between a first, second, or third (or subsequent) offense of possessing either marijuana or alcohol in any amount, as follows:

First Offense: Officers can only issue a “written warning” to the individual, irrespective of their age. Additionally, the officer is forbidden from advising the individual’s parent or guardian of the charge.

Second Offense: Once again, officers can only issue a “written warning” to the individual. However, for a second offense, they also will provide that person with informational materials on community drug treatment services, such as drug rehabilitation facilities. Additionally, if a second warning is issued and you are under the age of 18, your parents will be notified of both the second and first warnings.

Third or Subsequent Offense: Once again, officers will issue a written warning and provide information on community drug treatment services. Once you receive a third warning, if you are over the age of 18, the community drug treatment program shall be notified so that they can also reach out to you. If you are under the age of 18, the officer will simply notify the parents again of the third warning.

The Attorney General has advised officers that if they are not sure if a warning has been issued in the past, they should treat any offense as a first offense.

The effect of this, which has left parents angry, is that a child under 18 can be in the park, drinking alcohol or using marijuana, and if it is their first offense the parents are not allowed to be notified. In fact, in direct contrast to many laws that provide officers with immunity when they are doing their jobs and acting reasonably, the new law has made it a crime to violate certain provisions of the new legal framework and officers can be charged with depriving an individual of their civil rights if they violate a provision.

In addition to the above rules, officers are now restricted from the following:

  • Asking an individual under the age of 21 for consent to search their person based solely on marijuana/alcohol use or possession;
  • Using the odor of (or viewing, in plain sight) marijuana, hashish, or alcohol as “reasonable articulable suspicion” to initiate a motor vehicle stop in order to conduct further investigation;
  • Using the odor of (or viewing, in plain sight) marijuana, hashish, or alcohol as “probable cause” to conduct a search of the person’s property or vehicle;
  • Arresting an individual under the age of 21 for a marijuana or alcohol offense. Instead, officers may only take down their information and then issue a summons at a later date; and
  • Not activating body worn cameras when responding to suspected violations of marijuana or alcohol laws.

Despite all of these changes, it remains illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or hashish regardless of age, but the effect of this law is that a 17-year-old can legally drive with marijuana or alcohol in the vehicle and there would need to be some other extenuating factor (e.g., driving in an unsafe manner) suggesting he or she is under the influence before they can be investigated for such an offense.

Some of the consequences of these new laws will be discussed in the third part of our series looking at the new marijuana laws.

There is no question that our laws are vastly changed from where they stood on February 21, 2021. Officers, parents, and members of the community will have to adapt and learn as they go, as these laws are effective immediately. Here at Daly & Associates, we are keeping track of developments as they occur in order to answer the questions of all of our current and future clients. If you have questions about the topics covered in this article, and need legal advice with respect to same, please do not hesitate to contact us at (973) 292-9222 or e-mailing to set up a consultation with former Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Sean Gaynor. We are working on a “Daly” basis for your needs.

Children, Criminal, Drinking, DWI, Juveniles, Marijuana, New Law

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