The New Jersey General Assembly this evening voted 44-30 in favor of Assembly Bill 1465, which removes criminal penalties for the possession of approximately one-half ounce of marijuana. Members of the state Assembly Judiciary Committee had previously approved the measure by a unanimous vote.
Presently, the possession of this amount of marijuana carries a penalty of up to a $1000 fine and six months in jail. A conviction also results in a criminal record that cannot be expunged for at least five years, the loss of driving privileges, and other penalties.
The measure now awaits action from the state Senate. If you reside in New Jersey, you can click here to contact your state Senator and urge them to support this important legislation.
If the bill obtains Senate approval it will still face a major hurdle, as Governor Chris Christie publicly stated he intends to veto the bill should it reach his desk. (An override of the Governor’s veto would require 54 ‘yes’ votes in the Assembly and 27 ‘yes’ votes in the Senate.) It is unfortunate that the Republican Governor and former federal prosecutor refuses to listen to the will of the voters, as a November 2011 Eagleton poll found that 58 percent of New Jersey residents believe that penalties regarding the use of marijuana should be decreased and 55 percent of them believe that marijuana possession penalties ought to be be eliminated entirely.
Just days earlier, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee enacted a similar marijuana decriminalization measure into law, amending pot possession penalties from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by one year in jail and a $500 maximum fine) to a non-arrestable civil offense — punishable by a $150 fine, no jail time, and no criminal record.
Eight states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, and Oregon — similarly define the private, non-medical possession of marijuana by adults as a civil, non-criminal offense.
Five additional states — Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio — treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense. Alaska imposes no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana.