WEEKEND EDITION

Will N.J. Decriminalize Marijuana? Decision Delayed to June

| May 25, 2012 4:00 AM video

Packaged marijuana seized by Port Authority of New York and New Jersey officers. The New Jersey State Assembly will vote on a bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in June. AP/Port Authority

In April, after more than two years of legal snags, New Jersey finally issued the first of six permits to grow medical marijuana legally. That’s good news for New Jersey patients suffering from a small list of life-threatening illnesses. The state’s other pot-smokers are still subject to stiff fines and jail time if they’re caught with the stuff.

The State Assembly had scheduled a vote on Thursday on decriminalizing non-medical marijuana, but the vote has been delayed until June. Many supporters say the bill stands a good chance of making its way to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk, and the fact that Connecticut recently decriminalized marijuana could potentially sway the New Jersey governor.

It’s important to note the vast difference between decriminalization and legalization. Possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana has been decriminalized in New York State since 1977. However, in 2011, the NYPD arrested 50,700 people for possession of small amounts of marijuana, making the arrests the highest number in over a decade. Also notable: more people were arrested in New York City for marijuana possession than for any other crime.

Currently, possession of 50 grams of marijuana or less is a misdemeanor offense in New Jersey, meaning possession is cause for arrest, and conviction results in a criminal record. If convicted, the maximum punishment is a jail term of up to six months, and a fine of up to $1,000.

WATCH VIDEO:

Republican Assemblyman Michael Carroll is one of the author’s of New Jersey’s marijuana decriminalization bill. He recently discussed his views with Mike Schneider (@SchneiderNJTV), managing editor and anchor of NJ Today. Youtube/NJTodayOnline.

If New Jersey’s decriminalization law passes, possession of 15 grams or less would be civil offense, punishable by a fine between $100 and 500. The bill has bi-partisan support in the State Assembly, and it would not need a single Republican vote to pass in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Christie, however, has declined to comment on the bill.

Some opponents fear that the bill would promote recreational marijuana use. Bruce Hummer of the New Jersey Prevention Network, told the Star-Ledger that  decriminalization would “send a mixed message to our youth,” and make the drug “accepted by the community.”

But supporters say decriminalization saves taxpayers money by reducing judicial and correctional costs, and most importantly prevents young people from receiving a criminal record that can hamper future opportunities. State Police records show that marijuana made up 52 percent of the 49,920 drug arrests in 2010. According to Drug Policy Alliance, an organization dedicated to drug law reform, the following are a few of the serious consequences New Jersey residents face when arrested for marijuana possession:

  • Employers can ask about past arrests in New Jersey, even ones that didn’t lead to a conviction. That’s illegal in New York.
  • No right to vote while serving a sentence for a misdemeanor marijuana conviction.
  • Anyone convicted of a drug offense in New Jersey will have their drivers license suspended between six months and two years.
  • Under the federal Higher Education Act of 1998, conviction for drug offenses can potentially result in denial of student financial aid.

But even if New Jersey decriminalizes marijuana, Rosean Scotti, director of Drug Policy Alliance’s New Jersey branch, said the expense of tickets for possession could still lead to arrests, particularly for New Jersey’s poorest residents.

“One thing we’ve been concerned about the marijuana decriminalization bill is it could end up being like New York, where even though it’s just a fine and a ticket, you end up with a net widening. Now it just becomes easy to write a bunch of those tickets,” said Scotti, who added, “If, for instance, you don’t pay it, they can put out a bench warrant for you and then you have failure to appear in court against you. It can spiral out of control.”

The other issue surrounding decriminalization is currently a hot button topic in New York City: possession of small amounts of marijuana is not an arrestable offense, unless the marijuana is displayed or smoked in “open view.” In open view possession of a small amount of marijuana becomes a misdemeanor. If an officer uses the Terry stop tactic, more commonly known as a “stop and frisk,” and asks a person to empty their pockets, the obliging person is forced to present their contents, even marijuana they may be carrying. That explains the high number of arrests for possession of marijuana. The vast majority of people arrested in New York City are young men of color in New York City. This tactic of asking people stopped for alleged  suspicious behavior to “empty their pockets” is illegal, but most people aren’t aware of that and are inclined to obey the commands of an officer.

NYPD Raymond Kelly sent a memo to the entire department in Sept. 2011 stating that a “crime will not be charged to an individual who is requested or compelled to engage in the behavior that results in the public display of marihuana.” However, 2011 saw the highest number of marijuana arrests in New York City since the last years of the Giuliani administration.

Although there is a great deal of data on stop and frisks in New York, Scotti said it’s much more difficult to access similar statistics for New Jersey.

“The courts are very reluctant,” said Scotti.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jose-Gonzales/100003694111815 Jose Gonzales

    Finally an article that talks about the difference between decriminalization and legalization.  Decriminalization is a scam for lawyers to earn more money getting sentences reduced and empowers police to escalate their rampant intimidation.

    All decriminalization does is prolong the agony. Legalization is the only solution.

    • pfroehlich2004

      I absolutely agree, but every little bit helps. When a legalization bill is introduced in the NJ legislature (maybe by 2017?), proponents will be able to point out that the state decriminalized mj five years earlier without suffering any negative consequences.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jose-Gonzales/100003694111815 Jose Gonzales

        According to the article, New York deciminalized it 35 years ago and all it did was take away the need to legalize it.

        • pfroehlich2004

          Don’t get me wrong. I’m not particularly excited about decrim, particularly when 3 states (CO, OR, WA) might have full legalization by the end of this year. But, for tokers in NJ, it will mean a bit less legal harrassment until prohibition is repealed in their state.

          Anyway, if you’re interested in helping a legalization initiative make the ballot in Oregon, Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement (http://endprohibitionagain.com/) needs volunteers to check petition signatures. The email contact for volunteers is csle.volunteers@gmail.com.

  • MikeParent

    I can’t understand why these politicians are clinging to this morally bankrupt prohibition.  What’s the upside, other than some sort of payback from the prohibitionist parasites who feed at the trough of the “Drug War.”
    LEAP member, NYPD, ret.

  • Asd

    hahahahahahahahha he said yob, instead of job 3:57

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jose-Gonzales/100003694111815 Jose Gonzales

    New Jersey should offer a choice of being fat and denied marijuana or become slim and earn marijuana.  The government could save face in getting something in return if it had the result of reducing obesity in America, the number one health threat.

  • MaintainTheConstitution

    I heard a great interview with a biochemist who was from the cancer industry, however opted to treat his own cancer with marijuana.  He successfully killed all advanced stage prostate cancer, that had metastasized.  The interview is on http://www.cannabisnationradio.com  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonnie-Boii-Trav/100001083214914 Jonnie Boii Trav

    What does he mean it will give a bad image of it to the children. My generation does it countless people and generations before me. Some people think it’s bad, but it’s not effecting them they should be focusing on tobacco and the harm that’s doing. 

  • James Coman

    They should just legalize it already! It really ridiculous thats its still illegal at this point. so many people already smoke. legalizing it isn’t going to make any more people start. I think its just a scam for states to make money off arrests. Drug dealers only make money off it because its ilagal. it should be taxed and the state can profit off it too. Politicians don’t want to touch the subject because there afraid they will loose votes.

  • Nicholas Giaccio

    New Jersey lawmaker to introduce long-shot and they do I probably buy to help ecomy and not only that I never heard that some in detox for weed then beer and liquor and hard drugs but never weed

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