Decriminalize cannabis

A bill that will decriminalize cannabis up to two ounces passed the New Jersey 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. It 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 language 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.

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. 

New Jersey Cannabis Legalization and Social Justice

“Some of the language bill in Ruiz’s would serve legalized states,” Goldstein said.

He cited Colorado, California, and Washington. He explained that post-legalization, there are many issues left unaddressed by bills designed to simply regulate and tax cannabis. They usually do not address social justice issues.

According to the ACLU, about 94 people are arrested in New Jersey daily 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 one of NORML’s most effective tools was having activists email their legislators through their digital advocacy system.

The bill requires a hearing and passage in the Senate for it to be signed by Governor Phil Murphy. 

Given how quickly the bill moved through the Assembly chamber, that will not likely 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). While in favor of decriminalization, he is adamantly opposed to full cannabis legalization.

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Dan Ulloa
Dan Ulloa is the Editor and Publisher of Heady NJ, with a background in politics, journalism, and a passion for the cannabis community. He curates and publishes news, events, and insights on the industry. Dan has been a leading voice in the New Jersey cannabis scene, educating and informing the public about this rapidly evolving industry. He ranked #35 on the INSIDER NJ Cannabis Power List out of 100 in 2022.