Advocates Say Fair and Common-Sense Legislation will Save Money and Prevent Injustice and Hardship</p>
Trenton—On Monday, June 25th, the New Jersey General Assembly will vote 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 voting session is slated to begin at 1:00 p.m.
Under Assembly Bill 1465, the possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana would result in a simple citation, 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 of marijuana 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. 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 the use of marijuana should be decreased and 55 percent believe that 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.”
Tragically, although statistics show that people of all races use 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.
Fifteen other states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon and Rhode Island) 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 (R-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).