New Jersey governor Phil Murphy inched one step closer to fulfilling a long-held promise to legalize cannabis this week when lawmakers in the state voted on a bill to decriminalize small amounts of weed for personal possession. According to a report by NJ.com’s NJ Cannabis Insider, legislators in the State Assembly voted 63-10 to pass a measure decriminalizing up to two ounces of cannabis.
Measure A1897 was one of two bills up for debate among politicians in the Garden State, with the current bill supplanting arrests and jail time with a $50 fine for anyone found to be in possession of marijuana. The bill also decriminalized larger amounts of weed, with fines being on a sliding scale.
“New Jersey is being really progressive in starting this conversation,” DeVaughn Ward of the Marijuana Policy Project, was quoted as saying in the NJ Cannabis Insider. “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.”
Many were in agreement with Ward’s sentiments, including anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. In a statement released Tuesday, SAM praised the bill, calling it a step in the right direction.
“The passage of this bill is a good start to accomplishing real reform in New Jersey,” the group wrote in a statement We have worked with state leaders, such as Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Ron Rice to push lawmakers in Trenton to decriminalize minor possession and expunge prior records.”
SAM did pressure lawmakers for their alleged attempts to cater to the corporate cannabis industry, however.
“Unfortunately, the Legislature has seemed to only be interested in putting the interests of pot profiteers and big business ahead of tangible reforms,” the statement continued.
According to NJ Cannabis Insider, legislators in New Jersey were pressed into action following the recent demonstrations over police brutality marked by the death of George Floyd. It’s no secret that the War on Drugs is a significant contributor — if not the main factor — in the over-policing and over-incarceration of black communities.
What may not be known is that New Jersey has the third-highest number of cannabis arrests in the country, only behind Texas and New York. In 2017, law enforcement officials in Bruce Springsteen’s hometown arrested nearly 35,000 people for cannabis possession and over 3000 more for weed sales. Furthermore, arrests increased from 35 per every 10,000 residents in 2016 to 38 per every 10,000 in 2017.
Worse still, black residents made up almost 40 percent of all cannabis arrests in New Jersey, despite being only 13 percent of the population.
Efforts to embrace cannabis as a social justice movement have languished in Murphy’s administration almost from the beginning, as the governor has struggled to legalize marijuana — a promise he made on the campaign trail. Previous efforts to decriminalize weed have also failed in the state.
The current bill still needs to pass through the Democratic-controlled State Senate before making its way to Gov. Murphy’s desk.
Video - Gov. Phil Murphy discusses the failure to legalize cannabis in New Jersey, 2019