Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
Marijuana legalization bill inches closer to approval in NJ after long wait
top story

Marijuana legalization bill inches closer to approval in NJ after long wait

  • 0
{{featured_button_text}}
Marijuana

New Jersey voters approved a measure in November to legalize recreational marijuana.

More than three months later, Gov. Phil Murphy still hasn’t signed a bill to make it happen.

And, in the interim, thousands of people have been arrested on cannabis possession charges.

The purported holdup has been Murphy’s concern that the proposed law hasn’t specified uniform penalties for underage users.

Last week, state Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez, D-Camden, and state Sen. Nick Scutari, D-Union, introduced a “cleanup” bill to address Murphy’s concerns.

It provides for light penalties for underage use. It discourages police from making arrests by making the process onerously time-consuming.

It also creates a 26-person task force to review underage marijuana consumption in the Garden State and police encounters with users.

The cleanup bill is slated to be heard in committee in Trenton on Monday. It must pass both the Assembly and the Senate — and there is no guarantee it will — before Thursday for it to proceed to the governor’s desk, as per the agreement between Murphy and the Legislature.

“It’s my understanding we have broad agreement,” Scutari said. “It may not be unanimous, but we have majority. I think the governor will sign this simultaneously along with the other two bills that will create the cannabis industry and stop arrests.”

Support Local Journalism

Your subscription makes our reporting possible.
{{featured_button_text}}

That could happen by the end of this week.

State Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, said the governor’s delay had caused a “level of frustration for many of us.”

“My colleagues in the Black and Hispanic caucus have been working with the leadership that is respectful of the process but also make sure that our children don’t become political casualties,” Singleton said. “It didn’t need to be held hostage while we were working on a cleanup bill to effectively stop the thousands of arrests for a product that the voters of New Jersey said was no longer illegal.”

The cleanup bill makes possession of any cannabis a civil penalty of up to $50 for people ages 18 to 21.

It forbids police from using the scent of marijuana as probable cause to conduct a search. It requires officers to activate their body cameras before investigating a suspected cannabis violation. A minor who is caught with cannabis items may not be photographed or fingerprinted. Any records generated by a police encounter over a minor’s use of weed must be destroyed within two years.

It would also grant immunity from prosecution for any underage person who reports a cannabis medical emergency or is in need of medical assistance due to an unlikely cannabis-caused emergency.

“I’m happy we’re ending our reliance on the criminal justice system to prevent use by minors. That’s because it simply doesn’t work,” said David Nathan, a psychiatrist and founder of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation. “The preponderance of evidence shows cannabis can indeed be harmful to the developing brain. The younger you are and the more you use, the worse the outcomes appear to be. The best way to prevent underage use is telling kids what the real dangers are.”

Bill Caruso, a lobbyist and head of the cannabis practice at Archer Law in Haddonfield, said the new legislation “attempts to bridge the divide between the question of what penalties should exist for minors. It appears to strike the right balance.”

The bill does not mandate drug treatment for any minor offender.

As for the task force with over two dozen appointed members? No one had directly asked for that.

“Essentially the task force’s mission is to figure out all the problems the legislators can’t figure out right now,” said Chris Goldstein, an activist and regional organizer for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “Maybe that’s the default Jersey solution.”

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

The best local coverage, unlimited

Sign up for a digital subscription to The Press of Atlantic City now and take advantage of a great offer.

LEARN MORE

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

PLEASE BE ADVISED: Soon we will no longer integrate with Facebook for story comments. The commenting option is not going away, however, readers will need to register for a FREE site account to continue sharing their thoughts and feedback on stories. If you already have an account (i.e. current subscribers, posting in obituary guestbooks, for submitting community events), you may use that login, otherwise, you will be prompted to create a new account.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

Breaking News