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Marijuana in Montgomery—What Does the New Law Mean

By Barbara A. Preston l March 16, 2021

The local marijuana ordinance states that Montgomery Township farmers cannot grow it, stores cannot sell it, and people cannot consume it in public places. However, three new state laws require town leaders to abide by new rules—without many details.

One of the more concrete attributes is related to youngsters:

The state now mandates a three-tiered warning system for underage alcohol or marijuana use and possession; on the first offense, the minor (under the age of 18) would be issued a written warning; on the second offense, the youngster’s parents or guardians would be notified and provided information about community services or groups offering education on substance use; on a third or subsequent offense, the person would be referred to those community services or groups.

"This is important to keep in mind," says Montgomery Township Attorney Wendy Rubenstein, who gave a "100,000-foot overview" of the new laws during the first March township committee meeting. She is drafting a legal memo to distribute to committee members and police leaders to help interpret the new laws, and to advise on what steps they must take as they decide what the NJ marijuana laws will mean to Montgomery.

"Ordinances that disallow the use marijuana, or for retail establishments, or cultivators, are not basically deemed invalid," she says. "Montgomery will have 180 days to pass a (new) ordinance as to how they will want to handle the business within their municipality."

"For example, Montgomery could allow cultivation but not a dispensary," Rubenstein added. "But, you cannot disallow distributors who may be traveling from one location to another from passing within your borders."

The ordinance township committee passed in 2018 to Prohibit the Sale or Growing of Marijuana in Montgomery will have to be updated. "It is now null and void," says Mayor Devra Keenan.

Other details to be worked into Montgomery Township's ordinance

  • The municipalities that do allow businesses related to recreational marijuana within their borders will have the opportunity to approve a sales tax on those businesses up to 2 percent of sales.

  • There are not criminal penalties for marijuana and alcohol possession by anyone under 21 years old;

  • Police must have their body cameras enabled during interactions, which must be reviewed by the state attorney general.

  • Lessens the criteria of criminal liability for police officers who conduct illegal marijuana searches. Bars the odor of marijuana as cause for a search.

For years, the Police Blotter section of The Montgomery News has been been filled with arrests for marijuana use and possession. Pick any paper from the archives, and find the following:

"Another 20-year-old, from Brooklyn this time, was arrested after the driver blew through a red light on Route 206 ... The arresting officer detected the odor of marijuana coming from the car and arrested the driver ...

"A 21-year-old Philadelphia man was arrested for possession of under 50 grams of marijuana after MTPD stopped his car for speeding and detected the odor of marijuana. The driver admitted he has a small amount in his wallet, which was recovered by the officer. He was arrested ...

"Township police stopped a car driven by a 20-year-old Manville woman after she was seen making an illegal turn from Route 206 onto Orchard Road. The passenger admitted he had been smoking marijuana, and a search of the car turned it up. He was arrested for possession ..."

"Your police department has been wonderful and ahead of the game in getting it all together to make sure they have the proper forms in place for issuing warnings, and how to handle situations with minors and adults," Rubenstein said at the public meeting on March 4.

As for arresting adults for possession of marijuana and hashish, there are many unknowns.

Montgomery Police Director Jim Gill said, "Although there are no legal dispensaries or businesses operating in Montgomery, the six ounces has been approved. Keep in mind that if you were to purchase that marijuana out-of-state legally, you still could not possess it here in New Jersey because it was not produced, manufactured, or dispatched here."

"Just because someone is allowed to have six ounces, I don't want someone to think they can fly to Colorado and come back to New Jersey and legally possess it," Gill said.

In addition, penalties, processes, and standards for "driving while intoxicated on weed" will have to be developed, as reported in an earlier article, It's Not the Woodstock Weed.

Montgomery Committeewoman Shelly L. Bell thanked the township attorney and police director for providing an update on the new state marijuana legislation.

"I remember the ACLU's analysis about marijuana arrests counting for about half of all drug arrests," she said. "People, black and brown, were incarcerated the most. So this was really troubling."

Once township committee received the comprehensive legal memo from the township attorney, they will begin the writing of a new ordinance with plenty of opportunities for public discussion.

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