Legislative leaders finally announced they had agreed on a proposed plan on December 4th in a joint statement from Governor Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari, and Assembly Majority Conference Chair Annette Quijano: “We’ve reached an agreement on legislation providing the framework for legalization, which is a critical step in reducing racial disparities and social inequities that have long plagued our criminal justice system.
Senate Bill 2535
Call it a tale of two marijuana bills and two New Jersey senators at loggerheads over which marijuana bill should be given priority. Add on top accusations of racial unfairness in the state Senate, given the dearth of Black senators as committee chairs at a time when criminal justice reform is taking center stage in Trenton.
Sen. Ron Rice, D-Essex, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus and one of five Black senators in the 40-member Senate, contends that Black Senate Democrats—himself included—are being treated unfairly.
I have requested a meeting with Senate President Sweeney and Judiciary Committee Chair Scutari to determine what motivation may be behind this blatant disregard for the 100 New Jerseyans – mostly poor, young and minority – who are arrested for small amount marijuana offenses every single day.
Although marijuana decriminalization bills A1897/A4269 passed in the Assembly, the cannabis decriminalization bill in the Senate, Senate bill S2535, is preferred as it offers more meaningful reform and a fairer policy than the Assembly bills and especially for those who are disproportionately arrested and even after possible legalization.
A coalition of Senators introduced legislation (Senate Bill 2535) to decriminalize the personal possession of marijuana for adults.
Under this proposal, activities involving the possession and/or distribution of up to one pound of cannabis would be subject to a written warning. A subsequent offense would be punishable by a civil fine of no more than $25.00.
On Thursday, members of the New Jersey state Assembly approved a substitute version of A1897 by a 63-10 vote, with five abstentions. As currently written, the measure decriminalizes the possession and distribution of up to two ounces of marijuana by adults — making these activities punishable by a $50 fine. Those found to be in violation of the law will no longer be arrested or saddled with a criminal record.
Even before voters get to decide in November whether to legalize recreational marijuana use in New Jersey, possession of small amounts of pot could be decriminalized if Gov. Phil Murphy signs legislation that passed the Assembly on Thursday.
“New Jersey is being really progressive in starting this conversation,” said DeVaughn Ward of the Marijuana Policy Project. “At two ounces, it would still be progress for the region. The reality is that for every increase is another life that could potentially be saved; somebody that could not be forced to encounter law enforcement.”
Even though a vote to legalize weed in New Jersey is still months away, the Legislature is considering a bill to decriminalize marijuana that would make a pot bust cheaper than a traffic ticket.
The decriminalization bill, introduced by state Sens. Teresa Ruiz, Sandra Cunningham and Ronald Rice, represents a move clamored for by activists, who say the state needs to decriminalize the drug while it awaits the results of a marijuana legalization ballot question in November.
Almost all arrests for possession of marijuana would be eliminated in New Jersey if a new bill is adopted by the state legislature.
The bill would not legalize marijuana — that decision is being left to the voters on Nov. 3. But the new legislation seeks to reduce cannabis users’ encounters with police.