Here’s NJ’s latest plan to fix proposed marijuana legalization laws
TRENTON — An Assembly committee Friday endorsed a revised version of a bill intended to address issues with the marijuana legalization and decriminalization bills that have left them unsigned more than six weeks after they were passed.
The bill, A5342, is similar to one that stalled earlier this month due to opposition from some in the Legislative Black Caucus who expressed concern it would encourage the continuation of stop-and-frisk of minority youth.
Civil fines for underage possession of marijuana by people ages 18 to 20 would be $50 to $100, depending on the amount of cannabis possessed, down from $250 to $500 in the original cleanup proposal.
The bill outlines procedures that police are supposed to follow when interacting with juveniles under age 18 that revolve around point-of-violation warnings, rather than formal court proceedings. The attorney general would have to issue reports twice a year with statistics on those warnings and other juvenile interventions.
“I look forward to cleaning this up and making the best and representing what the voters in New Jersey asked for when we came to this but protecting our youth,” said Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, D-Passaic.
“Many of the things are very consistent (with) what happens currently with alcohol, things of that nature, without putting a permanent record on a young person that could deter them from college, tuition assistance to housing to opportunities to work in law enforcement or any type of public safety work,” Wimberly said.
“A fair process no matter where you live in the state of New Jersey for all our young people,” said Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, D-Passaic. “If you’re in an urban center, rural center, suburban, north, south or even Shore points, spelling out a process that protects our youth from harm, from criminal charges that can stack up and impede their future.”
Ami Kachalia, campaign strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said the proposal is “stronger than the cleanup bill that was considered earlier this month” and urgently needed to the break the logjam that has delayed the enactment of a legalization bill despite the Jan. 1 effective date for the constitutional amendment legalizing recreational marijuana for use by adults.
“We know that cannabis-related arrests are still occurring every day in New Jersey, with almost 4,000 arrests for cannabis possession under 50 grams in November and December alone and countless more this month,” Kachalia said. “In fact, data from Newark show that the city is on track to make more cannabis-related arrests this month than they did last January.”
The Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee endorsed the bill in a 4-2 vote. The committee’s Republicans voted against it, in part because it doesn’t address the business community’s concerns about drug testing for employees in safety-sensitive industries.
Under the current legislative calendar, Gov. Phil Murphy has until Feb. 8 to act on the legalization and decriminalization bills.