The lame-duck passage of some type of measure to decriminalize possession of marijuana has gone up in smoke, according to media reports and people close to the matter.
“It’s not getting done in lame duck,” Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, said Monday, according to New Jersey Globe. Proponents had argued the decriminalization effort should accompany the marijuana expungement bill that Gov. Phil Murphy signed in late December.
Even though that measure sets up a process for removing certain marijuana offenses from one’s criminal record, possession is still a criminal offense — which a decriminalization bill would have alleviated.
The black and Latino legislative caucus have both pushed for decriminalization, especially after May 2019 when Sweeney conceded that the state Senate did not have the votes to pass a bill legalizing recreational marijuana for adult-use.
Sweeney, Murphy and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, were hoping to approve a marijuana decriminalization effort as “short-term” relief while the state awaits legalization, which will come in the form of a voter ballot question in the presidential election this November. But a source in the state Legislature said there “haven’t been any serious discussions on it at all,” and that passage during lame duck – which ends on Jan. 14, just before Murphy’s annual State of the State address – would be extremely unlikely.
Coughlin, Murphy and Sweeney have all been wary of decriminalization, arguing it could embolden the existing black market by reducing penalties for cannbis possession to the equivalent of a “traffic ticket.”
The chief decriminalization proposal is Assembly Bill 5325, which would decriminalize possession of up to 2 ounces of cannabis and instead levy a $50 fine for anyone caught with up to that amount.
Many of its sponsors also put their name on the marijuana expungement bill that Murphy signed.