The details: The legalization and decriminalization bills make a distinction between marijuana and cannabis, even though they’re the same plant. Cannabis is the term for the legalized drug and marijuana refers to products sold through the unregulated market, according to four people familiar with the discussion.
The decriminalization bill on Murphy's desk eliminates all penalties for possession of up to 6 ounces of marijuana, including for those under 21 — the legal age to purchase it under the bill. But the enabling legislation includes provisions that would charge those under 21 with a petty disorderly persons offense if they’re caught with less than 1 ounce of cannabis — i.e. drugs that were obtained through a regulated dispensary.
Under the legalization bill, those aged 18 to 20 would face fines starting at $250 for possession of 1 ounce of cannabis — New Jersey eliminated criminal fines for juvenile offenders early last year — and at least $500 for more than an ounce.
Why it matters: Murphy‘s concerns over the discrepancy — which some legislative sources say was an intentional policy to reduce the public’s interactions with law enforcement over small amounts of the drug — weren’t publicly identified until after the bills landed on his desk. The administration is seeking new legislation that would set civil, but not criminal, penalties for underage residents caught with small amounts of both cannabis and marijuana.
Recreational sales can’t occur until Murphy signs the enabling legislation. And while state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has instructed prosecutors to suspend or move to dismiss pending marijuana-related cases, absent a decriminalization law, residents will likely continue to be arrested for possession.