Decriminalization criminal justice reform, whereby 50 grams or less of cannabis would be treated comparable to a parking ticket, is dead in the lame-duck legislative session between the November election and the new Assembly’s swearing-in next week.
The current Assembly session ends next Tuesday, January 14th at noon. There will likely be votes on bills on the 13th. There will only be minor changes to the Assembly. The Democrats will retain a healthy majority in the chamber. The State Senate is only up for election every four years versus the Assembly’s two.
Decriminalization criminal justice reform did not have much support in the lame-duck. Governor Phil Murphy and most of the legislators favored full legalization instead of decriminalization.
No Decriminalization Criminal Justice Reform
Only Senator Ron Rice (D-Newark) and his followers favored decriminalization criminal justice reform instead of legalization from the beginning through lame-duck.
The argument against legalization in favor of decriminalization is that it would prevent a sort of “Big Cannabis” forming akin to “Big Tobacco” that many see poorly. It’s funny how much they use this argument. They sound like radicals, even though they are otherwise conservative and undisturbed by issues of corporate malfeasance.
There’s also talk that passing decriminalization criminal justice reform would take away steam momentum from the ballot referendum in November.
And the referendum itself was a half-measure because support could not be found for full legalization within the legislature.
Some cynics say that Sweeney wanted to deny Murphy victories on key issues, cannabis being one of them. Cynics are right more often than not in the Garden State.
The only way this can be understood then is through the logic of New Jersey politics.
Decriminalization criminal justice reform was seen as a half-measure to stop the arrests at best. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of NJ, 94 people are arrested daily on cannabis possession charges. Most of these people are Hispanic and African American minorities who are being unjustly targeted. That number will likely be higher than 94 in 2020.
They brought up the number as part of a failed campaign to push legalization through the lame-duck session.
The ACLU NJ had no comments on decriminalization’s failure.
However, the cannabis expungement bill has been signed into law by Murphy. This means that the crime is seen as so petty there is a process to erase the crime from records. However, people will still be arrested for the same crime because the ACLU’s numbers show the number of arrests growing yearly.
Even if someone is sentenced to 12 months of probation now, if the ballot measure passes (which experts say it will), they likely will not have to go through the full 12 months of the program.
War on Drugs Continues in New Jersey
Decriminalization only solves the specific criminal justice issue. It does not fully legalize the plant. Those caught with 51 grams (or little more than two oz.) are still in trouble. It does not create a legal industry with the ensuing jobs, ancillary industries (like this site), or tax revenue stream. And it certainly does not normalize it for those still wary of cannabis due to old propaganda.
It is a sort of quiet approval of the underground market.
“Al Capone would have liked decriminalization” was a phrase national NORML leaders brought up to push in favor of full legalization versus decriminalization criminal justice reform.
Not that efforts to fight the underground market in favor of the legal market have gone well in California. They did not receive the tax revenue they expected from cannabis. This was due in part to the continued popularity of cannabis from the underground, which is usually cheaper than dispensary cannabis.
Tax revenue projection is always a type of game to suit politicians’ ends. A conservative governor might try to cut taxes and say that the money will be reinvested in a way that will make up for the lost revenue. But that doesn’t usually happen. This was very far off the mark for other reasons.