Decriminalize cannabis

6/18/20 By DAN ULLOA

A bill that will decriminalize cannabis up to two ounces passed the Assembly today in a vote of 63 to 10 with five abstentions. Initially, A. 1897 would have only decriminalized 10 grams.

Those found with cannabis would have to pay a penalty of $50.  That money would be payable to the municipality in which the offense occurred. The Reverend Charles Boyer made the point on Monday during the committee hearing that many police departments become exceedingly zealous in their quest to collect fines from people when the money goes to the municipalities.

“It’s good news,” said Chris Goldstein, Regional Organizer of the national National Organizational for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

The bill passed the Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee on Monday as a part of a series of criminal justice bills in the wake of the George Floyd Black Lives Matter protests

The massive wave of protests has resonated across the country. Many are seeking to take action to address the relentless police brutality and action that many are now acutely aware of. A great deal of that is justified in the name of the War on Drugs. 

It was sponsored by Assembly members Benji Wimberly (D-Passaic), Annette Quijana (D-Union), Jamel Holley (D-Union), Shanique Speight (D-Essex), Angela McKnight (D-Hudson) Britnee Timberlake (D-Essex), Cleopatra Tucker (D-Essex), Verline Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer), and Linda Carter (D-Union).

Due to COVID-19, The hearing was broadcast over the internet for people to hear.

The Fight to Decriminalize Cannabis

Cannabis advocates such as Garden State NORML want the bill S. 2535 to ultimately pass instead since that would allow only a written warning for a first time offense and would decriminalize cannabis up to one pound. They plan to continue to keep fighting to achieve that.

“I think Senator Ruiz’s bill is spectacular. The language in S.2535 is some of the most advanced lang to stop police from interacting with marijuana consumers I’ve seen in any state,” Goldstein said. He cited consumer protections in housing, employment, expungement, and the removal of the smell of cannabis as “probable cause”, grounds for investigation.

Goldstein explained that legislators took a third of it in the Assembly bill from an old bill and voted on a compromise bill.

While cannabis advocates plan to fight hard to pass the legalization referendum on Election Day November 3rd, decriminalization is seen as a way to stop the high amount of cannabis-related arrests before that takes effect. 

“Some of the language bill in Ruiz’s would serve legalized states,” Goldstein said, citing Colorado, California, and Washington. He explained that post legalization there are many issues left unaddressed by bills designed to simple regulate and tax cannabis without address social justice issues.

According to the ACLU, about 94 people a day are arrested in New Jersey every day on minor cannabis charges. 

“If this bill can take down the racist system of prohibition, it’s a significant step,” Goldstein said. “We’ve been talking about this for years, this racist system of marijuana prohibition has glaringly obvious tools used to harass black people in every city.”

Goldstein explained that in the past one of NORML’s most effective tools is having activists email their legislators through their digital advocacy system.

The bill still requires a hearing and passage on the Senate side of the legislature for it to be for signature by Governor Phil Murphy. 

Given how quickly the bill moved through the Assembly chamber, that is not likely to be a problem.

“I really hope the Senate takes this up as quickly as the Assembly did,” Goldstein said.

The Senate bill is sponsored by Ron Rice (D-Essex) who, while in favor of decriminalization, is adamantly opposed to full cannabis legalization.

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