Before New Jersey's Assembly Judiciary Committee
May 21, 2012
By Paul Armentano
NORML | NORML Foundation
I applaud the members of state Assembly for holding this hearing regarding A. 1465, which seeks to amend the state's criminal marijuana possession laws.
Assembly Bill 1465 reduces minor marijuana possession penalties (those involving the possession of 15 grams or less) from a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to six-months days in jail and a $1000 fine, to a civil infraction punishable by a fine only. This common sense, fiscally responsible proposal will cut costs, improve public safety, and have a positive impact on the quality of life of tens of thousands of New Jersey adults.
Assembly Bill 1465 Will Improve The Quality Of Life For New Jersey Citizens
In 2009 (the most recent year for which data is available), 22,439 New Jersey citizens were arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Passage of A 1465 measure would spare many of these citizens from criminal arrest, prosecution, and incarceration, as well as the emotional and financial hardships that follow -- including the loss of certain jobs, students loans, federal and state subsidies, and child custody rights.
Most adult marijuana users act responsibly. They are not part of the crime problem and they should not be treated like serious criminals. Assembly Bill 1465 would maintain monetary sanctions for marijuana possession violations, but would spare offenders from being saddled with lifelong criminal records. This change would continue to discourage marijuana abuse, while halting the practice of permanently criminalizing thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens.
Further, this change would provide immediate legal protections for some New Jersey patients, who presently benefit from the therapeutic use of cannabis, but remain at risk because the state's two-and-a-half year-old medical marijuana law remains inactive.
Assembly Bill 1465 Will Cut Costs And Improve Public Safety
Law enforcement resource allocation is a zero-sum gain. The time that a police officer spends arresting and processing minor marijuana offenders is time when he or she is not out on the streets protecting the public from more significant criminal activity. Passage of A. 1465 would allow law enforcement, prosecutors, and the courts to re-allocate their existing resources toward activities that will more effectively target serious criminal behavior and keep the public safe. In recent years, lawmakers in California (2010) and Connecticut (2011) have enacted similar legislation for these reasons. To date, these laws are working as lawmakers intended.
The Public Strongly Supports Assembly Bill 1465
Public opinion strongly favors such a reprioritization of law enforcement resources. Marijuana 'decriminalization,' as proposed under A. 1465, presently enjoys support from the majority of Americans. According to a nationwide CNN/Time Magazine poll, approximately three out of four citizens favor a fine over criminal penalties for the possession of marijuana. In fact, fourteen states – including Connecticut, Oregon, Maine, Nebraska, Ohio, and Mississippi -- have already enacted various forms of marijuana decriminalization, replacing criminal sanctions with the imposition of fine-only penalties for minor marijuana offenders. In no instance have lawmakers recriminalized marijuana after implementing decriminalization.
Contrary to the concerns of some, the passage of A. 1465 would not negatively impact marijuana use patterns or attitudes. Passage of similar legislation in other states has not led to increased marijuana use or altered adolescents' perceptions regarding the potential harms of drug use. In fact, the only United States government study ever commissioned to assess whether the enforcement of strict legal penalties positively impacts marijuana use found, "Overall, the preponderance of the evidence which we have gathered and examined points to the conclusion that decriminalization has had virtually no effect either on the marijuana use or on related attitudes and beliefs about marijuana use among American young people."
Support Public Safety: Vote 'Yes' On Assembly Bill 1465
Assembly Bill 1465 seeks to reduce government expenditures and promote public safety. These are goals that lawmakers should support. It makes no sense to continue to treat responsible adult cannabis consumers as criminals.
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Paul Armentano is the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), and is the co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (Chelsea Green, 2009). His writing on marijuana policy has appeared in over a dozen anthologies and in over 1,000 other publications.
 Joe Stein. "The New Politics of Pot." Time Magazine. October 27, 2002.
 NORML. 2007. 2007 Citizens Guide to Understanding America's Marijuana laws: A Compilation of State by State Penalties, Arrest Data, Tax Stamps and Legal Resources. Roanoke, Virginia: Zickafoose Visual-Worx, LLC.
 Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan. Monitoring the Future Occasional Paper 13. Marijuana Decriminalization: The Impact on Youth 1975-1980. Ann Arbor. 1981.