EDITOR’S NOTE: NJ Cannabis Insider is hosting a two-day business and networking conference March 9-10, featuring some of the state’s most prominent industry leaders. Early-bird registration is open. Tickets are limited.
Lawmakers on Friday advanced a new compromise on penalties for underage marijuana use, hoping to pass something that will make Gov. Phil Murphy agree to sign big bills to legalize and decriminalize weed into law.
It’s the Legislature’s second shot at a “cleanup bill” this month. The first fell apart when Black lawmakers came together in opposition, arguing that the penalties it set forth for those under 21 would disproportionately affect Black and brown youth.
But this measure is not so different from that prior attempt. The main change on penalties is the lowering of fines those 18 to 20 could face for possessing marijuana.
The bill, introduced Thursday evening, was approved by Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee Friday afternoon in a 4-2 vote.
“Many issues that I think we missed, unfortunately, came back,” said Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, D-Passaic, who sponsored the latest bill. He said the measure represents “what the voters of New Jersey asked for when we came to this, but protecting our youth.”
If the full Legislature passed the cleanup bill, Murphy could sign it and the two other bills legalizing (S21) and decriminalizing (S2535) marijuana into law together. He has said he cannot sign the other two as is, citing conflicting language that both legalizes possession of marijuana for those under 21 and makes it a disorderly persons offense.
Lawmakers will have to move quickly to make the deal work, something that hasn’t happened so far. If the Assembly holds a quorum after Feb. 1, it will mark the deadline for Murphy to sign or veto the first two bills. The next quorum is scheduled for Feb. 8, so as of now that is the deadline.
That prior cleanup bill sought to establish fines of $50 to $500 for those 18 to 20 caught with cannabis, while those under 18 would receive warnings or agree to enter into drug education or treatment programs.
The new bill caps fines at $50 for possessing up to six ounces of marijuana and $100 for possessing more. It levies uniform penalties for possessing marijuana bought on the street and product from licensed dispensaries once they are open and selling to the public.
The bill also bars police from using the smell of marijuana to stop a young person and search them for marijuana.
But it keeps those other penalties for people under 18. If juveniles do not abide by their agreement on education or treatment programs, they could face a formal juvenile delinquency complaint under the bill.
It also calls for a task force to review data submitted by law enforcement to the Attorney General on who is fined or warned for their use.
Instead of waiting on the Legislature, Murphy could conditionally veto the bills to demand the changes. But lawmakers passed the decriminalization bill with a veto-proof majority, and lawmakers have said they would not concur with the governor’s proposed changes.
The governor had set Friday as a deadline to take action on the bills, but with movement on the new one, no veto or signature came by 4 p.m.
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Amanda Hoover may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amandahoovernj.