State Sen. Anthony M. Bucco (R-25) wants to protect police officers from unfair criminal prosecutions that could stem from New Jersey’s new marijuana legislation.
Under new cannabis legislation passed in February, police officers could be guilty of Official Deprivation of Civil Rights if they violate any of the new procedural requirements mandated under recent laws.
As an example, Bucco noted that if any officer detained a person longer than necessary to investigate a complaint, they could be sentenced to between three and five years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
“Of course, we want officers to follow proper protocol at all times, but there has to be some proportionality between the violation and the punishment. In a split second, an unintentional mistake could land an otherwise exemplary officer in prison for years, even if no actual harm came to anyone during the interaction,” said the Morris County lawmaker.
Adjusting Existing Law to Protect Good Police
Under the adjustment bill sponsored by Bucco and fellow GOP State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-13), police officers would have to intentionally deprive a person of their rights during an underage possession incident, instead of the current law which would include unintentional actions.
Traditionally, in order to convict a law officer of Official Deprivation of Civil Rights, it would need to be proven that unlawful conduct occurred with the express purpose of intimidation of a person or group of persons due to race, color, religion, gender, handicap, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
“The intent is key,” noted State Sen. O’Scanlon. “How can we expect to maintain the safety and order of our neighborhoods and cities if police officers are tarred and feathered for an innocuous action in the performance of their duties.”
The pair also introduced legislation that would amend provisions prohibiting parents when a child was found possessing alcohol or marijuana for the first time.
Further Revisions to Marijuana Laws
While adult use of recreational marijuana was approved by the majority of state voters in November 2020, rollout of the related regulations has come under scrutiny.
The original legislation has since inspired two “clean up” bills designed to address potential loopholes or unpopular aspects of the laws.
Under the first clean up bill, those between the ages of 18 and 21 would be given two written warnings if found with marijuana illegally. After a third offense, a $50 fine or community service. However, this bill was further refined after the limitations of parental notification became more widely known.