The revised law for under-21s in possession of cannabis or alcohol would operate on a tier system. The first instance would earn a written warning; for the second, parents or guardians would be alerted and given information on educational programs for drug use; for the third, the underage person would be referred to available community services.
ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha
Mike Davis and Jessie Gomez discuss the new marijuana laws in NJ with Municipal Prosecutor J.H. Barr and Executive Director of the ACLU-NJ Amol Sinha.
At issue now is the decriminalization bill, which does not specify penalties for minors who possess marijuana. Both legislative and gubernatorial sources said language is being worked out — most likely destined for a “clean-up bill” — to specify penalties for minors, as well as some other changes.
“There was no drafting error. That language was intentionally intended to protect minors,” said one lawmaker familiar with the back-and-forth. “And why is the governor waiting until now to bring this up?”
The bills were introduced after 2.7 million New Jerseyans, over two-thirds of voters, supported a constitutional amendment, via ballot question, to legalize weed during the 2020 elections.
The pair of bills now head to Gov. Phil Murphy's desk, where he is expected to sign them into law. The ballot question takes effect Jan. 1.
In November, New Jersey voters will get to decide whether or not marijuana should be legal for recreational use. Axel Owen is the campaign manager for NJ CAN 2020, a coalition made up of advocacy groups and members of the cannabis industry who are campaigning for legalized marijuana for people 21 and over.
“To basically give them the opportunity to buy it in a controlled facility that is regulated and safe from seed for sale. That we actually know what exactly you’re getting, the potency, that there’s no contamination,” Owen said.
Researchers said seven counties saw more than 2,000 marijuana possession arrests in 2017:
“Legalization is about racial justice,” said Amol Sinha, executive director of the ACLU in New Jersey.
Despite growing public support for the legalized use of recreational marijuana, arrests in New Jersey have increased in recent years, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In 2017, the state reportedly had more arrests of Blacks users of the plant, and at higher rates, than almost every other state.
A driving desire to steer control over a multi-billion dollar industry has forced politicians to withdraw marijuana legalization legislation in Trenton, but advocates from the ACLU-NJ and allies say they will redouble their efforts to pass a bill that places racial and social justice at the fore.
Entrepreneurs are watching for the billion-dollar marijuana industry to emerge if pot becomes legal, an economic opportunity unrivaled in modern Newe Jersey history. Politicians are hoping to capitalize on the action, which has gummed up the process of doing justice.
Adult-use marijuana legalization is likely to be voted on by the entire state Legislature as soon as early next week. But since the bill was finalized Monday night, many lawmakers are concerned they haven’t been given enough time to thoroughly digest and assess its major points.
Top lawmakers in Trenton, along with Gov. Phil Murphy, need to decide once and for all whether they are in full favor of marijuana legalization — which a vast of majority of New Jerseyans support — and show they are willing to do what it takes to get the package of bills across the finish line.