New Jersey Legislature will Hold First-Ever Hearing on Bill to Decriminalize Possession of Marijuana on Monday, May 21st

Press Release May 16, 2012
Media Contact

Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Roseanne Scotti 609-610-8243</p>

Trenton, NJ—On Monday, May 21st, the Assembly Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on Assembly Bill 1465, which would make possession of one-half ounce, or 15 grams, of marijuana a summary offense similar to a parking ticket.  The hearing will convene in Committee Room 12 at 10am in the State House Annex.

Under Assembly Bill 1465, the possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana would be a summary offense, punishable by a fine of $150 for a first violation, $200 for a second violation and $500 for a third.  Currently, possession of this amount is a disorderly persons offense that carries a penalty of up to a $1000 fine and six months in jail.  Additional fines of more than $600 may also be imposed under the existing statute.  Currently, a conviction also results in a criminal record that cannot be expunged for at least five years.

A November 2011 Eagleton poll found that 58 percent of New Jerseyans think penalties for use of marijuana should be decreased and 55 percent think penalties for possession of marijuana should be eliminated entirely.

Advocates are applauding the legislation as a common sense measure that is long overdue. “More than 22,000 individuals were arrested for marijuana possession in New Jersey in 2010,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.  “This is a waste of law enforcement resources and taxpayer money.  And a marijuana conviction can have tragic long-term consequences for individuals.  People may lose jobs or be unable to secure employment because of a criminal record.  Students who incur a marijuana conviction can lose their student loans.  The punishment doesn’t fit the offense and New Jerseyans agree it should be changed.”

Nearly 50 percent of Americans admit to having tried marijuana at some point in their lives.

Tragically, although statistics show that people of all races consume marijuana at the same rates, people of color overwhelmingly suffer the criminal consequences.  In New Jersey, African-Americans are arrested for marijuana possession in grossly disproportionate numbers, especially those living in socially and economically marginalized communities.  For example, in Essex County, blacks make up approximately 40 percent of the total population and 70 percent of the arrests for marijuana possession.  In Camden County, nearly 40 percent of marijuana arrestees are African-American, yet they only represent 20 percent of the area’s total population.

Once an individual is convicted of even a minor possession offense, he or she is subject to a system of legal discrimination that makes it difficult or impossible to secure housing, employment, public assistance, federal student aid for higher education, and even a basic driver’s license.  Absent a conviction, the collateral consequences of a mere arrest can include immeasurable stigma and humiliation, the sometimes unmanageable financial burden of posting bail and hiring a lawyer, and lost hours at work or school.

14 other states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Oregon) have already decriminalized small quantities of marijuana for personal use, in amounts ranging from one half ounce to three ounces.

Assembly Bill 1465 is sponsored by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Hunterdon and Mercer), Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris and Somerset), Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Hunterdon and Mercer), Assemblyman L. Grace Spencer (D-Essex), Assemblyman Peter Barnes (D-Middlesex), Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Essex), Assemblywoman Cleopatra G. Tucker (D-Essex), Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Essex), Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (D-Monmouth), Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Middlesex, Somerset and Union), Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Burlington and Camden), Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex and Morris), Assemblyman Ruben Ramos (D-Hudson), Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex), and Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R-Monmouth).

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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