This morning, New Jersey’s Assembly Judiciary Committee heard a bill (A1465) that would decriminalize the possession of up to one half ounce of marijuana. The bill received unanimous support from the Committee, allowing it to move forward.
During the hearing at the Statehouse, a full crowd gathered and few objections were raised.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Republican Michael Patrick Carroll, said of the bill, “Some acts harm society and they warrant the intervention of police, prosecutors, and perhaps even incarceration. Other acts warrant, at best, a spanking, and this seems to be one of those situations.”
There was a diverse group of supporters of the bill, including attorneys, members of the clergy, a retired corrections officer, and even a representative from a drug addiction prevention group.
Candice Singer, a research analyst from New Jersey’s chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, spoke out, explaining, “The police manpower utilized for these [minor marijuana possession arrests] is costly. It is beyond dispute that a criminal record interferes with one’s ability to maintain employment. This not only hurts the individual and the individual’s family, but it harms the economy and the state, preventing residents from becoming employed and paying income taxes.”
On the other hand, Bruce Hummer of the New Jersey Prevention Network opposed the bill, because the association felt that decriminalizing marijuana would “send a mixed message” to teenagers and young people in the state by creating an environment of acceptance of some drug use.
Retired state corrections officer Harry Camisa strongly disagreed with Hummer’s assessment, arguing that the damage done emotionally and physically to teens and young people in prison is far more detrimental. He explained, “I have seen firsthand the devastating effects on these young kids who are sent to jail for what I consider a minor offense. I always felt bad for the very young ones because by the time they asked for protective custody they had already been beaten with a lock in a sock, stabbed, or sodomized.”
Should the bill be signed into law, it would make first offenses for minor possession of marijuana a $150 fine. Second offenses would be a $200 fine and third offenses would be a $500 fine. This is a drastic change from the state’s current laws where minor possession of marijuana is a considered a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.