Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Jersey considers decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana

Assembly Bill No. 1465 and Senate Bill No. 1977 seek, respectively, to decriminalize the possession of 15 grams (approximately a half ounce) or less and 50 (approximately two ounces) or less of marijuana.  Under the Senate version of the bill, those who possess 50 grams or less are subject to a $50 civil penalty.  Under the Assembly version, possessors of 15 grams or less are subject to civil penalties of $150 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense and $500 for the third and subsequent violations.  The Assembly version also requires that adults who offend three or more times attend a "drug education program." 

Under both measures, those who possess paraphernalia, such as rolling papers, shall be subject to a $100 civil penalty. Also, under both versions, it will no longer be against the law to be under the influence of marijuana nor would people who possess the newly established limit or less be required to deliver it to the nearest law enforcement officer.  Further, a person who drives a vehicle while in possession of the newly established limit or less shall no longer be subject to a two-year driver license suspension.

The penalties will be collected in the municipal court and kept by the municipality.  Unlike criminal offenses, where the state must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the state only has to meet a "preponderance of the evidence" standard--the burden in civil cases--to collect the penalties.

A-1465 passed the General Assembly on June 25, 2012 by a vote of 44 "Yes" to 31 "No" with 2 abstentions and 3 members not voting.  I built a table showing how each Assembly member voted, which is on-line here

Both versions of the bill now are in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The committee chairman, Nicholas P; Scutari is one of the sponsors of S-1977.