New Jersey: Assembly Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Legislation

Members of the New Jersey state Assembly approved a substitute version of A1897 by a 63-10 vote, with five abstentions. As currently written, the measure decriminalizes the possession and distribution of up to two ounces of marijuana by adults — making these activities punishable by a $50 fine. Those found to be in violation of the law will no longer be arrested or saddled with a criminal record.

Under current law, marijuana possession offenders may receive up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Annually, police make over 30,000 marijuana-related arrests in New Jersey. That total is among the highest of any state in the nation.

“I thank legislative leaders for taking action on this important issue,” said Charlana McKeithen, Garden State NORML Executive Director. “No New Jerseyan should have to live in fear of an arrest record and the collateral consequences that are associated with it. New Jersey has a unique opportunity to become a leader in marijuana policy reform in the US. As we commemorate Juneteenth this week, Garden State NORML looks forward to working to move the envelope forward by advocating for decriminalizing low level marijuana arrests immediately, while also investing in the communities most harmed by cannabis criminalization.”

The legislation now moves to the state Senate for further consideration.

Twenty six additional states and the District of Columbia have either legalized or decriminalized the adult possession and use of marijuana.

Earlier this week, members of the NJ Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee approved a substitute version of the measure, which was combined with A4269, a separate pending decriminalization measure. As originally written, A1897 would have decriminalized the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana.

Garden State NORML is urging lawmakers to adopt additional provisions included in a measure currently pending in the Senate, S2535. Specifically, advocates seek the inclusion of broader social justice provisions that seek to provide relief to those communities disproportionately targeted and destroyed by the War on Drugs, such as barring police from stopping and searching people because they smell marijuana; allowing those on probation or parole to use marijuana without it impacting their release; and directing New Jersey courts to develop a system to seal past conviction records.

“The time for lawmakers to take action is long overdue,” said NORML State Policies Coordinator Carly Wolf. “Law enforcement continues to arrest almost 100 New Jerseyans every day for marijuana violations, a disproportionate number of whom are young, poor, and/or people of color. Passage of this legislation is the first step in repairing some of the harms caused by the War on Drugs. I urge members of the Senate to amend the bill to include even broader social justice reforms, and to take swift action to send the measure to Governor Murphy’s desk.”

This vote comes months before New Jersey voters decide on a state-wide ballot initiative in the November 2020 election to regulate marijuana for adults in the Garden State. The question reads:

Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called “cannabis”?

Only adults at least 21 years of age could use cannabis. The State commission created to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program would also oversee the new, personal use cannabis market.

Cannabis products would be subject to the State sales tax. If authorized by the Legislature, a municipality may pass a local ordinance to charge a local tax on cannabis products.

Are you a New Jersey resident? If so, send a message to your lawmakers in support of decriminalization efforts now!