Trenton, NJ — On Thursday, the New Jersey Assembly voted in favor (63-10, with five abstentions) of a decriminalization bill (A.1897) that would decriminalize possession, manufacture, and distribution of up to two ounces of cannabis in the state, reducing the penalty to a $50 civil fine. The bill would also create a virtual expungement process and prohibit discrimination in lending, housing, and public accommodations for prior offenses. You can read a full summary of the bill here.
If the bill is approved by the Senate in its current form, and signed into law, it will have significant loopholes that would allow for continued criminalization of marijuana users. New Jerseyans could still be arrested and incarcerated for possession of cannabis-related paraphernalia (including the container cannabis is in), being under the influence of cannabis, or failing to hand over cannabis to law enforcement.
A more comprehensive decriminalization bill (S.2535) has also been filed in the Senate. The Senate bill would decriminalize up to one pound of cannabis, includes provisions to eliminate law enforcement’s ability to detain or arrest someone based on the smell or odor of cannabis, and prevents discrimination for past convictions in housing and public accommodations. You can read a full summary of the Senate bill here.
Currently, simple possession of cannabis is punishable by up to six months in jail. According to an ACLU-NJ report, the number of cannabis arrests have risen over the last decade, with the latest data finding that 94 individuals are arrested every day for cannabis in New Jersey.
New Jersey lawmakers approved a resolution last year that will allow voters to decide whether to legalize cannabis for adults’ use in November 2020. In April, Monmouth University released a poll finding 61% of voters would vote in favor of the measure.
Statement from DeVaughn Ward, MPP’s senior legislative counsel:
“MPP strongly believes cannabis should be legal for all adults, but decriminalization is a vital and necessary interim step. However, we encourage the Senate to pass a stronger decriminalization bill. If the legislature fails to enact decriminalization, more than 30,000 individuals in New Jersey will face traumatic arrests and prosecutions while voters wait for Election Day.”