Democratic state senators introduced a long-awaited marijuana decriminalization bill Thursday.
The bill, sponsored by Sens. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City) and Ron Rice (D-Newark), would remove criminal penalties for possession of one pound or less of marijuana and replace them with, at worst, a $25 fine.
“The War on Drugs has ravaged communities of color for far too long. While we await voter approval of legalization, we cannot forget about those arrested and incarcerated every day on marijuana-related charges,” Ruiz said. “By decriminalizing certain marijuana offenses, we can prevent countless unnecessary arrests and the attendant legal consequences over the next seven months.”
Over the last two years, Democrats in Trenton have repeatedly tried to legalize through legislative means, but those efforts fell short after they failed to gather 21 votes in the Senate.
After those efforts failed, lawmakers in both chambers overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational cannabis. Voters will decide whether or not that amendment goes through in November.
“We have been over-penalizing marijuana offenses for far too long. We all know it is not nearly as dangerous as heroin or cocaine and it has no place being classified with them in statute,” Cunningham said. “This legislation will right the ship, revising the damaging criminal codes put in place under the war on drugs, which were intentionally created to target the black community.”
While the legalization bill stalled, other marijuana measures have faced less trouble.