NJ Legislature Exploring Decriminalizing Marijuana

Today the New Jersey Assembly Judiciary Committee is considering Assembly Bill Number 1465 (A1465), which would most notably decriminalize possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana, and impose a new range of civil penalties instead. Roseanne Scott, state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, told The Star-Ledger, “(this) the furthest a bill to decriminalize marijuana has ever gotten in the New Jersey Legislature.” Specifically, the bill statement reads:

This bill would decriminalize possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana. A person who is found to possess 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…

In addition, any person who is 21 years of age 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 Addition Services in the Department of Human Services. A person who is less than 21 years of age at the time of the violation shall be referred to an approved drug education program following any violation. 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.

A person who possesses 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.

Additionally, this 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 Commissioner of Human Services would adopt any rules and regulations necessary to effectuate the purposes of section 5 of this bill. This bill would not apply to persons who are in compliance with the “New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act,” N.J.S.A.24:6I-1 et al.

A1465 will likely benefit from recent momentum on drug policy reform, and enjoys widespread support in its own right. For example, New Jersey policymakers recently approved medical marijuana for the first time. A1465 was first introduced by Assemblymen Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) and has bipartisan support from 15 Democrats and three Republicans. And last week The Star-Ledger editorial board weighed in on A1465 bluntly, concluding:

Treat pot the same way we do alcohol, with education and treatment. Not by calling the cops. What didn’t work for bootleggers won’t stop the stoners.

Despite the aforementioned support, A1465 faces an uncertain future. It’s not clear whether the bill will make it out of committee, let alone out of the legislature. And while Governor Chris Christie has signaled interest in criminal sentencing reform, his office has not publicly commented on this particular bill.

Drug policy and criminal sentencing reform continue to gain momentum in New Jersey, making A1465 a bill to watch.