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Cannabis Legalization Clean-up Bill Passes Judiciary Committee Hearing

The second cannabis legalization clean-up bill with cannabis criminal justice reform passed in a hearing. It was initially scheduled for Tuesday but occurred today after there was uncertainty regarding its support.

The cannabis legalization clean-up bill addresses underage drinking by giving it the same penalties as being caught with possession of cannabis. Overall, the clean-up seeks to impose as few financial penalties as possible now in contrast to the first clean-up bill that imposed a $250 fine on a first-time offender.

Cannabis Criminal Justice Reform

David Lorette of the Office of Legislative Services (OLS) noted that S. 3454 would modify underage marijuana or hash possession consequences, impose a three-tier warning system, allow parent notification, and law enforcement referrals to access community services. The same consequences would apply to alcoholic beverages. The record would be kept for two years or not past their 21st birthday.

Notably, the cannabis legalization amendments remove municipalities’ authority to enact more penalties on top of this for both underage cannabis and alcohol consumption. It also increases sellers’ liability, bringing the charge of selling to a minor to a disorderly person offense.

The Attorney General must review bodycam footage of officers accused of racial bias and depriving individuals of their civil liberties.

“I want to thank you, Senator Singleton, Senator Pou, the Black and Latinx caucuses for all their input and hard work,” Senator Nick Scutari (D-Union) said.

He went into detail on the cannabis legalization clean-up bill and called it a “fair and balanced approach.”

No public testimony was permitted today.

Cannabis Legalization Clean-up Bill Scuffle

Not surprisingly, noted prohibitionist Senator Ron Rice (D-Essex) held up the process.

“I support the amendments to this bill. We started with a bill that was bad in terms of the clean-up bill. The Assembly tried to do as much work as they could to lay a foundation,” he began.

“We need to have a clause that qualified immunity does not apply to this particular bill. If, in fact, we’re holding officers accountable, qualified immunity doesn’t apply to criminal cases,” Rice argued in a long-winded speech.

“We don’t have that amendment in writing,” Scutari said, arguing he could not allow the amendment to be debated.

He noted Senator Singleton (D-Burlington) and Pou (D-Passaic) have been working on the approved amendments that are in writing.

Rice argued it’s a common practice in the New Jersey legislature to have unwritten amendments approved in committee.

“We had a full hearing. Based on what was heard at the hearing and the public comments, the amendments have been provided in writing,” Scutari said. “You’re certainly welcome to bring that amendment on the floor as a hostile amendment. I’m sure the Senate President will entertain it at that time.”

Rice argued the validity of his bill, “I don’t want to be isolated or segregated in the process.”

“I appreciate your input, but that’s how I run the committee, so I’m not going to entertain it,” Scutari said.

“I know his passion on the issue,” Singleton said. “If Senator Rice intends to bring this motion to the floor, he will have my support on Monday to at least to have our colleagues, all 40 of our colleagues, to make a decision on that amendment.”

Scutari called for a vote. Senator Brian Stack (D-Hudson) seconded the motion.

Legalization Debate

“I think most of my constituents do like the idea there is some order in society. It looks like we’re going over underage consumption of alcohol and marijuana,” Senator Mike Doherty (R-Warren) said. “Our society seems to be heading in the wrong direction.”

“Law enforcement seems to have a completely different opinion. I’m going to abstain today leave my opinion open,” Senator Kip Bateman (R-Somerset) said.

Rice voted no, which was no surprise, and added he would indeed introduce his amendment on the floor after OLS helped him with the writing.

Senator Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), an older man, had troubles unmuting himself before voting “a very enthusiastic yes.”

Singleton, Cruz-Perez, and Pou voted yes.

The Senate is scheduled to meet Monday morning at 9:30 to pass the cannabis legalization clean-up bill S. 3454, and the Assembly will meet at 1 pm and do so as well. Governor Phil Murphy is likely to sign the referendum enabling, decriminalization, and clean-up bills on Monday the 22nd as well.

However, the best-laid plans of mice and men and cannabis often go awry.

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