NJ Assembly approves bill to decriminalize cannabis

Daniel J. Munoz//June 18, 2020

NJ Assembly approves bill to decriminalize cannabis

Daniel J. Munoz//June 18, 2020

Getting caught with up to 2 ounces of marijuana could result in a $50 fine under a bill that passed the state Assembly on Thursday afternoon.

Proposed Assembly Bills 1897 and 4269 would decriminalize certain amounts of cannabis possession, while scaling back penalties for what would still be arrestable and convictable offenses.

The measures, which were introduced at the Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee on Monday, passed by a 63-10 vote with five abstentions at the Assembly’s remotely held hearing, and with no discussion among any members. A Senate version was introduced on March 16 to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but has not gone anywhere since.

The passage comes months ahead of a ballot question set for November’s 2020 presidential election, where voters will decide whether recreational marijuana should be legalized for adult-use.

Thursday’s bill ultimately falls short of a much more far-reaching proposal in the upper house, Senate Bill 2535, introduced on June 4 and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Assembly legislation mirrors many features of S2535, and many passages and sections in both bills are identical word-for-word, save for the provision on possession of up to a pound of marijuana.

Under the Senate bill, possession of up to a pound of cannabis will no longer be an arrestable offense, replacing it with a written warning for first offenses and a $25 civil penalty or community service for any afterward.

The combined Assembly bills instead call for scaling back penalties for possession of that amount—lowering a first-time offense from 18 months to six months of imprisonment, and fines from $10,000 to $1,000. Any subsequent offenses would be met with the current level of punishment.

Possession of up to 2 ounces of cannabis, under current state law, warrants up to 18 months in jail and fines of up to $10,000.

Under current law, possession of between 1 ounce and 5 pounds is punishable with imprisonment between three and five years or fines up to $25,000, or both. The Senate bill raises the threshold to one pound, and the Assembly bill does the same.