Decriminalization expansion bill advances ahead of November ballot initiative
Last update: June 23, 2020
On June 18, the New Jersey Assembly passed a decriminalization bill in a 63-10 vote with five abstentions, sending it to the Senate for consideration. The bill (A. 1897) would decriminalize possession and distribution of up to two ounces, reducing penalties to a $50 civil fine. The bill would also prohibit discrimination for past convictions and create a “virtual” expungement process. You can check out a full summary here.
Unfortunately, A. 1897 has significant loopholes that would allow for continued criminalization of cannabis 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 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.
MPP and allied organizations are urging the legislature to reconcile the two bills and adopt the strong provisions in S. 2535.
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. The report also showed tremendous racial disparities in arrest rates.
We know that decriminalization is a vital interim step to prevent thousands of arrests between now and when the November legalization ballot measure would take effect. You can help us advocate for a strong decriminalization bill by contacting your senator and urging them hold an immediate hearing on S. 2535. Then, please spread the word to your friends and family in New Jersey so that they, too, can raise their voices for justice.
New Jersey legalization headed to 2020 ballot
On December 16, 2019, supermajorities in the New Jersey Senate and Assembly approved a resolution that will refer to voters the question of legalizing cannabis for adults’ use. While MPP strongly preferred a 147-page bill, which included important provisions for equity and would have taken effect sooner, the necessary Senate votes were unfortunately not there for that approach, and the voter referral appeared to be the only path to legalize cannabis in New Jersey.
The proposed constitutional amendment (SCR 183) is narrow in focus, as is required by New Jersey law, and seems to require implementing legislation. If approved by New Jersey voters on Tuesday, November 3, 2020, the measure would:
legalize regulated cannabis for adults 21 and older while keeping unregulated cannabis illegal;
charge the legislature with authorizing the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, or a successor agency, to regulate legal cannabis;
limit state taxes on retail sales to the sales tax rate, which is currently 6.625%; and
allow municipal retail taxes of up to 2%.
Meanwhile, other reforms are moving forward. Also on December 16, 2019, the legislature approved a “clean slate” expungement bill, to allow those with cannabis and other convictions to more easily remove from public view the scarlet letter that derails job and housing prospects. Gov. Murphy signed the bill into law two days later. Among other improvements, S. 4151 requires the courts — with help from an expert task force — to develop and implement an automatic sealing process for most cannabis offenses.
MPP and allied organizations are also urging the legislature to decriminalize cannabis in the short term. In New Jersey, simple possession of cannabis is still punishable by up to six months in jail. As data complied by the ACLU-NJ shows, 94 individuals are arrested every day for cannabis in New Jersey. Unless the legislature acts, more than 30,000 individuals will face traumatic arrests and prosecutions while voters wait for Election Day. Urge your legislators to support decriminalization and to push for swift, equitable implementation.
Medical cannabis program expanded
On June 2, 2019, Gov. Phil Murphy signed A20, also known as Jake’s Law — named after Jake Honig, a pediatric patient who used medical cannabis during his battle with cancer. The law institutes many much needed reforms to the medical cannabis program, including:
expanding qualifying conditions, including by adding chronic pain;
providing anti-discrimination protections, including related to education, rental housing, professional licensing, and employment;
expanding access, including by increasing the number of cultivators, retailers, and manufacturers; and
allowing home delivery.
A more detailed summary of the changes can be found here.