Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey signed a bill on Thursday that reduces the criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of psilocybin mushrooms. Under the bill (S 3256), those convicted for possession of less than one ounce (about 28 grams) of magic mushrooms will face lighter punishments including less time in jail and lower fines.
Current New Jersey law classifies possession of psilocybin mushrooms as a third-degree crime carrying penalties of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $35,000. Under the legislation signed into law by Murphy on Thursday, possession of less than one ounce will be charged as a disorderly persons offense, with penalties including up to six months in county jail and a $1,000 fine.
The new law goes into effect immediately. Democratic Sen. Nicholas Scutari of Union County, one of the sponsors of the bill, said that psilocybin mushrooms are “still an illegal product, but it’s not going to ruin lives for a first offense.”
“Obviously the governor recognizes our continued failed war on drugs,” Scutari said. “This was an old relic of the war on drugs; a felony conviction for simple possession of a mushroom.”
Cannabis Bill Remains Elusive
The bill originated in the New Jersey Senate as an amendment to legislation under consideration to implement the voters’ legalization of marijuana in the November election. The measure was approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee but failed to gain support in the New Jersey General Assembly.
“I’m 100% in favor of it. I think most drugs should be decriminalized or at least downgraded to something less than a felony for personal use. You just saw Oregon downgrade heroin and cocaine,” Scutari said after the measure was introduced last year, referring to a ballot measure to decriminalize all drugs that succeeded in that state in November’s election. “We’re not doing that.”
Separate bills that severed psilocybin legislation from the marijuana legalization measure were then filed and passed in both chambers of the state legislature. Murphy signed the bill to reduce the penalties on psilocybin mushrooms on Thursday without releasing a public statement on the legislation.
The success of the psilocybin bill comes despite continued delays in crafting legislation to implement Question 1, a ballot measure to legalize marijuana for adults that passed with 67% of the vote in November’s general election. Lawmakers had appeared close to reaching an agreement last month when a last-minute demand from Murphy to include penalties for marijuana possession by underage people complicated negotiations.
Murphy’s plan was opposed by Black and Latinx lawmakers, who feared continued disparate enforcement of marijuana prohibition in communities of color. With the dispute over penalties for young people unresolved, a bill to implement Question 1 remains to be passed by legislators and signed into law by the governor.
“This hasn’t been an easy fight, nor has it happened as quickly as I would have liked, but we are in a better place, a smarter place, and a more just place than ever before,” Murphy said during his State of the State speech last month.