A new bill that would decriminalize up to 15 grams of marijuana is moving through the New Jersey legislature. The bill is expected to be voted on by the state Senate in the coming months.
The Assembly voted in June in favor of a bill which would minimize the penalties for low-level marijuana possession to escalating fines rather than a disorderly person charge.
A first offense of possession of 15 grams or under would incur a $150 fine, a second offense would incur a $200 fine, and any subsequent offense would incur a $500 fine. After the third offense, offenders would also be required to participate in a drug education program.
If the bill passes, New Jersey police departments will receive new guidelines from the attorney general. Police will have to establish new procedures, including omitting fingerprinting and processing of those found in possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Assemblywoman L Grace Spencer is one of the bill’s sponsors, and hopes that the educational aspects of the bill will help to stop marijuana from being labeled as a “gateway drug.” As a prosecutor, Spencer has noticed that the system is clogged by low level marijuana possession cases.
In addition, she has seen the negative impact that incarceration can have on individuals who have never been in trouble with the law other than a marijuana possession arrest. “It’s so much more of a hindrance in having people move on with their lives,” Spencer explained. “Often times, individuals with a small amount – it’s a personal use amount rather than people dealing. If it’s a personal issue, I see it as a problem. Incarceration does not cure addiction.”
Rachel Cortrino, a member of NORML New Jersey’s board, explained that the problems go even further than what Assemblywoman Spencer described. People who are charged with marijuana possession, no matter how small the amount, could become ineligible for public housing and lose their driver’s license. Decriminalization could help people avoid these repercussions.
According to Cortrino, another bill is also making its way through the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would decriminalize marijuana possession under 50 grams, impose flat fines of $50 and not require drug education for repeat offenders.
Regardless of whether either of these bills, or a conglomeration of the two, makes it to the desk of Governor Chris Christie, it is anticipated that the Governor will veto any marijuana decriminalization measure. Christie has been vocal about his disapproval of marijuana in the past.