The possession of fewer than fifteen grams of marijuana would carry no penalty in New Jersey under a new bill that won unanimous support from the New Jersey Assembly Judiciary Committee today.
The Judiciary Committee approved the bill, entitled A1465, with very few objections from the jam-packed hearing room in the Statehouse. The bill would replace criminal penalties with fines for those caught with fewer than fifteen grams of marijuana, or about thirty joints. The bill’s prime sponsor, Republican Michael Patrick Carroll out of Morris County, said, “Some acts harm society and they warrant the intervention of police, prosecutors and perhaps even incarceration. Other acts warrant at best, a spanking, and this seems to be one of those situations.”
Supporters of the bill included defense attorneys, a clergyman, a retired corrections offer, a college instructor, and a representative from a drug addiction prevention group. Supports argued that individuals arrested for the possession of marijuana, face far worse consequences than the crime deserves, such as difficulty obtaining a job or attempting to qualify for housing. In New Jersey last year, there were 22,000 people who were arrested for the possession of marijuana. Even though drug use rates are about equivalent to each other, far more African Americans face jail time than Caucasians, which perpetuates a vast racial injustice as well.
Candice Singer, a research analyst from the New Jersey chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said, “These long-term consequences are unjust and expensive. The police manpower utilized for these arrests is costly. It is beyond dispute that a criminal record interferes with one’s ability to maintain employment. This not only hurts the individual and the individual’s family, but it harms the economy and the state, preventing residents from becoming employed and paying income taxes.”
Currently, first offenses are punishable by a $150 fine, second offense a fine of $200, and a third offense with a fine of $500. The fines may be waived if the person who is charged can demonstrate “extreme hardship”, according to the bill, A1465. Fines would be collected and processed by municipal court. The law now allows a judge to impose a six-month jail term and a fine of $1,000 when a person is convicted of marijuana possession.
Bruce Hummer of the New Jersey Prevention Network, an association of treatment professionals, said decriminalizing marijuana would send a mixed message to our youth, who would be more likely to use the drug if they perceived it as less harmful and widely accepted by the community. However, a retired state corrections offer, Harry Camisa of Yardville, said for the sake of teenagers he has seen traumatized and abuse in prison, the committee simply must support the bill.
Camisa said, “I have seen firsthand the devastating effects on these young kids who are sent to jail for what I consider a minor offense. I always felt bad for the very young ones because by the time they asked for protective custody, they had already been beaten with a lock in a sock, stabbed or sodomized.” Bottom line, the state of New Jersey must support this bill.