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New Jersey Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Advances

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #735)
Consequences of Prohibition
Drug War Issues

A bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to 15 grams (a little more than a half-ounce) of marijuana was approved Monday by the Assembly Judiciary Committee. The bill, Assembly Bill 1465, now heads for an Assembly floor vote.

Under current law, small-time pot possession is punishable by up to six months in jail. Under AB 1465, the threat of jail would be removed and infractions would be punishable by a $150 fine for a first offense, $200 for a second offense, and $500 for a third offense.

Some 22,000 people were arrested for simple marijuana possession in the state last year, with blacks disproportionately represented. In addition to possible jail time, those arrested face other collateral consequences, such as difficulties finding a job or qualifying for housing.

The crowd in the hearing room and most witnesses, including a retired corrections officer, defense attorneys, a clergyman, a college instructor, and a representative from a drug addiction prevention group favored decriminalization, according to an account carried by New Jersey Real-Time News.

"Some acts harm society and they warrant the intervention of police, prosecutors and perhaps even incarceration," said the bill's prime Republican sponsor, Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris), who is also a committee member. "Other acts warrant at best, a spanking, and these seems to be one of these situations."

"These long-term consequences are unjust and expensive," said Candice Singer, a research analyst from the New Jersey chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. "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."

Only Bruce Hummer of the New Jersey Prevention Network, which represents treatment professionals, spoke against the bill. He said decriminalization would "send a mixed message to our youth," who would be more likely to use the herb if it was seen as less harmful and "accepted" by the community.

But retired corrections officer Harry Camisa had a powerful retort to Hummer. "I have seen firsthand the devastating effects on these young kids who are sent to jail for what I consider a minor offense," Camisa said. "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."

Forty years ago, the Shafer Commission, recognizing that harsh penalties for marijuana had no scientific basis, called for the decriminalization of possession of small amounts for personal use. A handful of states took that advice in the 1970s, and after a long interregnum beginning with the Reagan years, in the past decade, more states have come on board. The number is now 14.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


saynotohypocrisy (not verified)

It sends a more reasonable message than the current law sends. The current message (claim) is that arresting people for using the indisputably safer alternative to alcohol is just and wise policy. Decriminalization would send the message (claim) that fining people for using the indisputably safer alternative to alcohol is just and wise policy. Still nasty stuff, but somewhat better than the current POS law. 

Mon, 05/21/2012 - 6:30pm Permalink
Alex Rai (not verified)

Glad to see NJ moving toward a more reasonable policy...


I seriously can't stand these self interested drug profiteers though... they know damn well how many of their customers are marijuana users who got caught and ordered into treatment. I realize jobs are scarce, but it is absolutely disgusting that these freaks would want to make money off other people's suffering.


That also goes for the employment testing industry whose spokespeople ruin people's careers by equating 3 day old metabolites with drinking a 6 pack of beer and going to work... profit over science, and profit over basic human decency.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 2:39am Permalink
David Hart (not verified)

I wish they would stop describing this as 'decriminalisation'. That word ought to mean to make something which was once a crime no longer a crime (see, for example, 'sodomy'). Here, something which was a crime is still a crime, albeit with reduced penalties compared with the previous law.

If you can still get a "$150 fine for a first <i>offense</i>" (my emphasis), it's still an offense.

Maybe we should try to get into the habit of saying 'reduce (the) penalties' rather than 'decriminalise' when something like this comes up.

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 9:13am Permalink
Carmen Brown (not verified)

Sending a message to our children via police arresting them and judges locking them in prison sends a bad message to our children.

Imprisoning young people (mostly young black men) to send other young people a message damages all of society. This is the same technique as leaving a body hanging on the hanging tree. 

A young person becoming addicted to drugs is the fear of society and the driving power of the war on drugs. But this "message" of war does not address the actual disease of addiction. Threats of violence do not deter addicts for a meaningful length of time. 

Thu, 05/24/2012 - 5:33pm Permalink

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