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NJ Moving To Decriminalize Pot Possession in Small Amounts

Legislation to decriminalize the possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee today. The bi-partisan bill is sponsored on the Democratic side by Assembly members Reed Gusciora, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Grace Spencer and Peter Barnes. Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll is the Republican sponsor.

Marijuana Decriminalization in NJUnder the bill, a person who is caught possessing 15 grams or less of marijuana would be subject to a $150 fine for a first violation, a $200 fine for a second violation, and a $500 fine for a third or subsequent violation. A person who is caught possessing drug paraphernalia for the personal use of 15 grams or less of marijuana would no longer have committed a criminal violation but would be subject to a $100 civil penalty.

“This bill would put us in line with neighboring states like Connecticut and New York, which recently decriminalized marijuana possession,” says Gusciora. “The bill recognizes the realities of our current drug laws, which are overly punitive for marijuana and taxing on our criminal justice system.”

The bill would also require anyone under 21 who is caught with marijuana and anyone 21 and over who is caught three times, to undergo a drug education program. The person would be responsible for paying any costs associated with his participation in the program, consistent with his ability to pay. If the violation is committed by a person under the age of 18, the person would be referred to the Family Part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court for an appropriate disposition.

“Possession of a relatively small amount of marijuana can have serious long-term consequences on many aspects of a person’s life,” says Watson Coleman. “Once a person has a criminal record, it can affect their job, schooling, home life, and personal perception.  Decriminalizing small possession would ease these burdens while also taking taxpayers off the hook for the cost of prosecuting these crimes.”

The bill would establish that it is no longer a disorderly persons offense to be under the influence of marijuana or to fail to voluntarily deliver 15 grams or less of marijuana to the nearest law enforcement officer. This bill would also eliminate the requirement that a person who operates a motor vehicle while in possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana must pay a $50 fine and forfeit the right to operate a motor vehicle for a period of two years.

The legislation was unanimously approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee by a vote of 7-0 and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.

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