The New Jersey Assembly passed a cannabis decriminalization bill June 18 that would reduce the penalty for the possession, manufacture and distribution of up to two ounces of cannabis to a $50 civil fine.
The legislation would also establish a virtual expungement process for past cannabis-related convictions.
Under current law, the possession or distribution of between one ounce and five pounds of cannabis is punishable by three to five years in prison and fines of up to $25,000, while possessing or distributing less than one ounce can carry an 18-month jail sentence and a $10,000 fine.
The Assembly approved A. 1897 in a 63-10 vote, sending it to the Senate for consideration.
Lawmakers in the Senate have introduced a broader decriminalization measure, S.B. 2535, which would reduce the penalty for cannabis possession of up to one pound to a written warning and a $25 fine for subsequent offenses.
Meanwhile, the New Jersey Legislature introduced a resolution last fall to place an adult-use cannabis legalization question on the state’s 2020 ballot, and a recent poll conducted by Monmouth University found that 61% of respondents plan to vote in favor of legalization this November.
“MPP strongly believes cannabis should be legal for all adults, but decriminalization is a vital and necessary interim step,” DeVaughn Ward, senior legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), said in a public statement. “However, we encourage the Senate to pass a stronger decriminalization bill. If the legislature fails to enact decriminalization, more than 30,000 individuals in New Jersey will face traumatic arrests and prosecutions while voters wait for Election Day."