Assembly Judiciary Committee releases marijuana decriminalization bill

TRENTON – The Assembly Judiciary Committee released a bill that would  decriminalize possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana, making it solely a civil penalty.

Under bill A1465, a person with 15 grams or less of marijuana would be fined $150 for a first violation, a $200 fine for a second violation, and a $500 fine for a third or subsequent violation.  All fines would be paid to the town where the offense took place.

An amendment was made to waive the fines if there was a case of extreme hardship.

“The harm to society is de minimis,” said bill co-sponsor and Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-26) of Morris Township, about marijuana possession.

Assemblyman Peter Barnes, (D-18), of Edison, said making marijuana possession a “civil penalty” would help people still have a chance of living productive lives, without having the penalty haunt them for long periods of time.

“Many companies won’t hire you for this one blemish,” said Barnes, who is one of 15 sponsors of bill A1465. “The time has come to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.”

In addition, the bill states that any person 21 or older who commits a third or subsequent violation would be referred to a drug education program approved by the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services in the Department of Human Services. 

A person who is under age 21 at the time of the violation shall be referred to an approved drug education program following any violation, which the offender must pay for.

In the future, Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, (D-38), said, an amendment should be made regarding drug education programs, not just for marjuana education programs.

Ken Wolski, of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana in New Jersey, supports the bill.

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.

Roseanne Scotti of the Drug Policy Alliance supports the bill, saying the current law on marijuana penalties is too stringent, making it difficult for them to get jobs or obtain loans because the penalty isn’t expunged until five years goes by.

Candice Singer of the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (NCADD), requested that an evaluation take place after the third offense to determine if the person has a substance abuse disorder.

Jay Lassiter, a patient advocate, described the “so-called” war on drugs as a failure.

“Whenever you get Michael Patrick Carroll and Reed Gusciora to co-sponsor something, it’s worth a trip to Trenton,” Lassiter said.

He described himself as  a criminal because he took cannabis this morning to alleviate his HIV-related pain.

New Jersey Prevention Network opposed the bill, saying it would send “a mixed message” to young people, with many believing marijuana use is safe.

“It will be devastating to our youth,” the group stated, adding marijuana use could lead to other illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin.

The group said that the average joint has 0.4 grams of marijuana.

“That is about 37 joints,” the group said.  

Assembly Judiciary Committee releases marijuana decriminalization bill