New Jersey: Lawmakers Advance New Marijuana Legalization “Cleanup” Bill

Members of the New Jersey Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee advanced new “cleanup” legislation (A5342) Friday, which “revises consequences for underage possession or consumption of various forms of cannabis.” The advancement came after Governor Murphy and legislative leaders reached a new compromise on marijuana legalization implementation.

The measure imposes a civil penalty of $50 for those ages 18-20 caught in possession of up to one ounce, and $100 for more than one ounce of marijuana. Those under 18 years old would face a “point-of-violation warning” or  “juvenile intervention.”

With the February 8 deadline fast approaching for Murphy to act on the pair of bills already sitting on his desk to end arrests and regulate the commercial marijuana market, the Governor has threatened to conditionally veto the complementary measures unless a new compromise is reached.

Assembly and Senate lawmakers in December approved A1897 to end low-level marijuana possession arrests, and A21/S21, to regulate retail sales. After Governor Murphy delayed signing the implementation bills over concerns related to penalties for underage marijuana use and possession, the voter-approved constitutional amendment went into effect on January 1, 2021 without any enabling legislation enacted. Governor Murphy has called on lawmakers to impose civil fines for those ages 18-20, and curbside warnings for those under 18, who are caught in possession of marijuana. Absent the Governor’s approval, police in the state are still making minor marijuana possession arrests.

An initial round of clean-up bills, which imposed civil fines of up to $500 for marijuana possession by minors, advanced through the legislature in early January. But ultimately the measures received criticism from black and latino lawmakers concerned about the disproportionate effect these fines would have on teens of color. As a result, the bills were pulled from consideration.

Additional votes on A5342 are expected in the coming days.