A bill introduced in the state Senate Thursday afternoon would ban arrests for possession and distribution of up to a pound of marijuana, instead replacing it with written warnings and fines.
Under Senate Bill 2535, possession and distribution of up to a pound of cannabis would still be illegal, but it would only be met by a written warning for the first offense. Any further offenses would result in a civil penalty of $25, or community service.
That comes months ahead of a ballot question that will go before the state’s voters during November’s presidential election on whether or not the state should legalize recreational cannabis for adult-use.
It is also despite multiple failed attempts to get a cannabis decriminalization bill past Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk.
Murphy, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, have all previously been wary of decriminalization, arguing it could embolden the existing black market by reducing penalties for cannabis possession to the equivalent of a “traffic ticket.”
The most recent attempt to pass such a measure was during this past winter’s lame duck session, when lawmakers were hoping it could act as a stopgap until voters decided on, and hopefully approved, the November ballot question. But that effort was pulled in early January.