Today, New Jersey state lawmakers voted on a proposal to decriminalize cannabis in their state. The bill passed the New Jersey Assembly and would be a major step towards stopping cannabis arrests in the community. If this bill becomes law, residents will be allowed to have up to two ounces in their possession.
“New Jersey is being really progressive in starting this conversation,” said DeVaughn Ward of the Marijuana Policy Project. “At two ounces, it would still be progress for the region. The reality is that for every increase is another life that could potentially be saved; somebody that could not be forced to encounter law enforcement.”
If this becomes law, it would mean fewer people going to prison if cannabis is their only offense, and no arrest records for those only guilty of cannabis possession and no violent crimes. So far, measure A1897 was supported with a 63-10 vote. It would replace arrests for up to two ounces with a $50 fine and would lessen jail time and fines for larger amounts of cannabis.
There’s also another bill currently in the Senate which would decriminalize up to two pounds of cannabis. It would give first offenders a warning and second offenders a $25 fine. The bill would also take away parole or probation penalties for those who use cannabis and would stop police from searching people on the basis that they claimed to smell cannabis.
Cannabis and Justice in New Jersey
These bills were introduced into legislature shortly after the mass protests against police brutality across the globe. New Jersey, Texas, and New York police make more cannabis arrests than any other states, and black people are arrested more than three times as often as white people. Folks who support these new bills hope that the change in cannabis arrests will be a positive thing for the community.
“Knowledge of the disparities cannot eradicate them—only through legalization with a foundation of racial and social justice can we begin to right this wrong,” Amol Sinha, the executive director of the ACLU in New Jersey, claimed in a statement earlier this year. “We need New Jersey voters to approve legalization, and we need the legislation that enacts it to put racial and social justice front and center.”
Still, some are nervous that this will not pass, or that this will not be enough. Both bills still need to pass both the Assembly and the Senate before moving to the governor’s desk. While both of those bodies of legislature have Democrat majorities, a 2012 bill to decriminalize passed the Assembly but didn’t become a law, so advocates are still cautious. Others are holding their breath to see if full legalization passes the ballot in November and are more concerned with creating an industry than simply decriminalizing.
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Still, if New Jersey is able to pass decriminalization, this will be a huge step forward for lessening arrests of minorities and other vulnerable populations over small amounts of cannabis.