The New Jersey Senate on Monday approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana and reduce penalties for possession and distribution of certain amounts in the state.

Bill S 2535 specifically removes criminal penalties for possession of up to six ounces of marijuana.

Feature photo source: Unsplash

Terms of Marijuana Decriminalization in New Jersey

The marijuana decriminalization bill S 2535 was created to eliminate criminal and civil penalties and punishments for marijuana possession of up to six ounces.

This is after the bill was amended from the initial provision of a pound of marijuana.

The past bill stated that those in possession of marijuana would receive a written warning first, and then $25 fines for subsequent offenses. Under the latest version, it would be legal to have up to six ounces of weed without any penalty.

“To make sure we did something that is long overdue, we shifted the weights,” she said Friday. “I am very proud of the work that we have accomplished in this bill from a social justice lens.”

Marijuana Distribution In New Jersey

It also gives provisions for the distribution of small amounts of marijuana in the state. The bill decriminalizes the distribution of marijuana totaling amounts of less than one pound.

Violators would receive a written warning for a first offense. They would then face fines of $25 for second and subsequent offenses.

“We have been over-penalizing marijuana offenses for far too long. We all know it is not nearly as dangerous as heroin or cocaine. It has no place being classified with them in statute,” Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, a bill sponsor, said in a statement.

“This legislation will right the ship, revising the damaging criminal codes put in place under the war on drugs, which were intentionally created to target the black community.”

Psychedelic Provisions in the Marijuana Decriminalization Bill 

Shrooms weren’t left out in the historic move. A senator added an amendment to downgrade penalties for possessing up to an ounce of psilocybin, better known as hallucinogenic “magic mushrooms.”

The amendment received support from Senator Nicholas Scutari after marijuana legalization passed during the elections.

“You could do three to five years in state prison for just the possession of one tiny little bit of psilocybin, so this is just going to regrade it,” said Sen. Nicholas Scutari.

Criticisms Conveyed About The Psychedelic Provisions In The Bill

The psychedelic provision in the bill has been heavily criticized and continues to raise some eyebrows.

“How can we decriminalize a psychedelic drug called magic mushrooms when the basis for the decriminalization is the disproportionate impact on black and brown communities who had been arrested, or arrested, for marijuana,” Sen. Nia Gill said on the floor prior to the vote.

“And this magic mushroom, which is a psychedelic drug, has never been established as a drug used by the affected community and they are arrested for at a rate higher than all of us.”

Impact of Marijuana Decriminalization in New Jersey

Decriminalization will radically impact racial justice in the state. This is due to the fact that thousands of records of nonviolent marijuana offences stand to be expunged.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, black people are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people.

“Which will have an immediate impact on the citizens of New Jersey, which will decriminalize current and actually past simple possession charges of marijuana and will dismiss those pending matters,” Scutari said.

Criminal Charges Faced By People Before Decriminalization

Currently, possessing between one ounce to five pounds is illegal. The offence punishable by three to five years in prison and up to a $25,000 fine.

In the last 30 years, the police have arrested nearly 1 million people in New Jersey on marijuana charges. This is according to the state judiciary. 

Criminal Charges Faced By People After Decriminalization Bill

People caught with more than one pound of weed under the new bill would receive a disorderly persons offense. This is punishable by arrest with six months of jail time and up to $1,000 in fines.

The police are banned from stopping and searching people because they smell weed.

People on probation or parole are also allowed to use marijuana without it impacting their release.

Previous Attempts To Decriminalize Weed In New Jersey

While the latest decriminalization bill is the first one that has been approved in New Jersey, it is definitely not the first of its kind to exist.

Rice introduced a decriminalization bill last year, but came under fire by activists for a mandate that would push those caught with weed to attend drug treatment programs.

A second bill introduced in the Assembly in May 2019 made it out of an Assembly committee but never passed a full floor vote.

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