December 15, 2009
Re: Public Intoxication Ordinances
There has recently been some confusion as to the status of public intoxication ordinances many of your towns may have. I hope this letter will provide some clarity to the issue.
N.J.S.A. 40:48-1 does give a municipality the power to “prevent vice, drunkenness, and immorality.” That statute is the source of authority for towns to pass ordinances outlawing public drunkenness.
However, in 1977, the State Legislature passed the Alcohol Treatment and Rehabilitation Act (ATRA) at N.J.S.A. 26:2B-1-39. N.J.S.A. 26:2B-26 specifically states that: “No county, municipality, or other political subdivision of the State shall adopt any law, ordinance, bylaw, resolution or regulation having the force of law a. rendering public intoxication or being found in any place in an intoxicated condition an offense, a violation or the subject of criminal or civil penalties or sanctions of any kind; b. inconsistent with the provisions and policies of this act.”
There are currently lawsuits against towns that still have public intoxication laws within their ordinances. While the outcome of such cases have yet to be determined, it seems clear that N.J.S.A. 26:2B-26 decriminalized public intoxication. Towns that still have such ordinances on their books should repeal them, or at the very least suspend enforcement of them until the Courts of the state make a final determination.
For further information contact Matthew Weng at (609) 695-3481 ext. 137.
Very truly yours,
William G. Dressel, Jr.