With less than one full week to go before the NJ Legislature breaks for summer recess, activists in the Garden State have been closely working with legislators to introduce landmark legislation to eliminate the criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
Known as Sensible New Jersey, this effort is being spearheaded by Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and NORML NJ, and marks the first time a comprehensive marijuana decriminalization bill will be introduced in NJ.
The bill, which will be introduced this week by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), calls for the elimination of criminal penalties for possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana.
In 2009, the Garden State arrested 26,254 people for marijuana. Eighty-five percent of those arrests (22,439) were for possession of less than 50 grams. Currently, adults caught with anything from a joint to two ounces are treated the same way – with a custodial arrest and a criminal prosecution.
Under the proposed legislation, individuals possessing less than 15 grams (roughly a half-ounce) will be subject to a fine, with no arrest, prosecution or criminal record. Loosely modeled after Connecticut’s decriminalization bill that was recently signed into law, Assemblyman Gusciora’s bill includes additional protections tailored specifically toward eliminating any statutory grey areas and loopholes in NJ’s penal codes.
“We are excited to begin this conversation in the Legislature and will continue to lay the foundation for this groundbreaking effort to cut costs and end the failed practice of criminalizing otherwise productive members of society for possessing a substance that is less dangerous than alcohol,” stated Victor Pinho, a Sensible New Jersey coordinator and NJ Chapter Coordinator for SSDP.