As New Jersey continues to push for the legal cannabis, detractors of the plant continue to look for ways to stop the state from achieving its goal. While this will be somewhat of a tall task for anti-cannabis foes, a group of bipartisan lawmakers have come up with a compromise— decriminalize cannabis in lieu of an outright legalization. And at this point, it’s fair to wonder: is New Jersey favoring decriminalizing marijuana over legalization?
The Suggested Compromise
“This whole legalization stuff needs to slow down. I think folks need to listen to Sen. (Robert) Singer and myself, and people in the community,” said state Sen. Ronald Rice, one of the legislation’s main sponsors.
Under the suggested legislation, pot offenders with a small amount of cannabis would, essentially, be treated like traffic violators.
The new bill would allow those caught with under 10 grams of cannabis to only face a $100 fine for a first offense. Second-time offenders would receive a $200 ticket, and any further offenses would result in a $500 fine. As it stands, offenders, first time or not, can face up to six months in jail, a $500 fine, or both.
Additionally, the bill would also speed the process of expungement for past marijuana arrests and allow municipalities to pocket all but $50 from every fine. The bill would also offer treatment services for those who claim to have a marijuana dependency.
State Sen. Robert Singer, another one of the bill’s sponsors, believes the legislation gets to the root of the problems plaguing New Jersey.
“We are not putting people in jail. We are helping them get treatment if they need it,” Singer said. “What bothered all of us is we are going to try to solve the woes of the state by tax money coming in from marijuana. Shame on us.”
Anti-legalization proponents agree that the bill will help New Jersey lawmakers reach its ultimate goal— providing social justice for its community.
“Marijuana legalization is not the step forward for social justice that has been promised,” said Bishop Jethro James, the president of the Newark/North Jersey Committee of Black Churchmen. “In fact, it’s just the opposite, as the marijuana industry routinely targets vulnerable communities as profit centers. Just take a look at Denver, where the number of pot shops littering the city is greater than the number of McDonalds and Starbucks combined.”
Final Hit: Is New Jersey Favoring Decriminalizing Marijuana Over Legalization?
While the compromise remains an interesting option for New Jersey, it remains a long shot that the bill will usurp any potential plans for outright legalization of the plant as the state’s number one priority.
Governor Phil Murphy made the legalization of cannabis one of the key components of his platform, and it’s unlikely Rice and Singer’s bill would do anything to stop him. Additionally, the bill needs the approval of Senate President Stephen Sweeney in order to make it to a committee hearing, something that appears more than unlikely while legalization is still on the table.
Regardless of the outcome, the proposed bill is still seen by some as a step in the right direction. Even amongst certain pro-cannabis groups.
“This legislation goes a long way in addressing the social injustice surrounding our youth and people of different ethnicities,” said Dara Servis, the executive director of the NJ Cannabis Industry Association. “People of color are targeted and arrested at an alarmingly high rate and this could aid in offsetting the injustice within our community.”
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