New Jersey lawmakers advance bill to decriminalize marijuana

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New Jersey lawmakers advanced a bill this week that would decriminalize marijuana possession of up to two ounces, a major step toward stopping weed arrests in the state.

The state Assembly voted by a 63-10 margin, with five abstentions, to pass the bill, which would replace arrests for possession of two ounces of marijuana with a $50 fine. It also lessens jail time and fines for larger amounts along a sliding scale.

The New Jersey Senate is also considering a bill that would decriminalize possession of weed up to one pound, and activists are trying to set up a ballot initiative for voters to decide in November if they want to legalize weed sales.

The bill’s passage comes as the nation grapples with police brutality and systemic racism, with activists noting out that drug arrests disproportionately impact people of color.

“New Jersey is being really progressive in starting this conversation,” DeVaughn Ward of the Marijuana Policy Project, told NJ Cannabis Insider. “At two ounces, it would still be progress for the region. The reality is that for every increase [it] is another life that could potentially be saved; somebody that could not be forced to encounter law enforcement.” 

New Jersey has struggled in the past to pass marijuana legislation, seeing bills that would decriminalize 15 grams of weed, among others, languish in the state legislature and never become law. However, Gov. Phil Murphy and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, both Democrats who were recently skeptical of easing restrictions on weed, have indicated their stances have shifted.

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