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New Jersey Lawmakers Approve Latest Marijuana ‘Clean Up’ Bill Amid Week Of Uncertainty

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It’s been a rocky road to implementing marijuana regulations in New Jersey since voters approved a legalization referendum in November. But on Friday, a key Senate committee advanced a “clean up” bill designed to satisfy requests from Gov. Phil Murphy (D).

The legislature has already sent enabling legislation to the governor’s desk, but he’s yet to take action on it because he’s pushing for the inclusion of cannabis-related penalties for underage people. A newly revised bill to address the issue cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in a 6-2 vote, with one abstention.

As amended, the legislation would make underage possession of marijuana subject to a written warning. That policy would also apply to underage alcohol consumption, which is currently considered a petty disorderly persons offense. Another amendment would make it so 15 percent of cannabis tax revenue goes to “underage deterrence and prevention.”

This is a notable development in a week that’s seen significant ups and downs when it comes to marijuana policy in New Jersey. The Judiciary Committee held a hearing on an earlier version of clean up bill on Monday, but planned votes on Tuesday and Wednesday were cancelled by Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D).

Scutari had said on Wednesday that the governor’s request to add penalties for underage marijuana use was sufficiently addressed in the December legislation that’s already on his desk and “all avenues to clarify it any further are exhausted.” Advocates have pushed back against Murphy’s underage penalties request, arguing that it threatens to perpetuate the consequences of racially discriminatory enforcement practices.

It remains to be seen whether the newly amended bill that advanced out of committee will address Murphy’s concerns, or if it has enough support within the Senate and Assembly to even get to the governor’s desk. But floor votes on the revised legislation is planned for Monday in any case.

“I think I might have 21 Democrats, to be honest with you,” Scutari told The New Jersey Globe, referencing the prospects of the revised bill to earn majority support in the Senate.

During Friday’s meeting, one committee member, Sen. Ron Rice (D), requested an amendment concerning qualified immunity for law enforcement. Scutari said it’s an example of “a much larger discussion they’re trying to insert into this bill” and refused to allow it to be considered by the panel while saying Rice was free to bring it up on the floor on Monday.

The governor’s deadline to act on the cannabis implementation bill currently on his desk—in addition to a complementary decriminalization measure—depends on the next time the Assembly quorums. He could sign, veto or conditionally veto the bills; the latter option would send any proposal back to the legislature to approve or reject changes he made. If Murphy takes no action on the bills, they will become law without his signature.

As it stands, the legalization and decriminalization bills awaiting Murphy’s action are in conflict, suggesting that follow-up legislation may be needed in any case. The former treats underage possession as a disorderly persons offense while the latter removes all cannabis penalties for underage people.

The governor pledged in a State of the State address last month that the state was “on the verge of passing an innovative and groundbreaking set of laws to reform our historically unjust approach to marijuana and cannabis.”

Meanwhile, public crime data shows that, at least in New Jersey’s largest city of Newark, police are continuing to make busts for cannabis possession, despite the November legalization vote and a call by the state attorney general for prosecutors to suspend low-level marijuana cases.

While marijuana policy is in flux in New Jersey, Murphy did sign a bill this month that reclassifies possession of up to an ounce of psilocybin mushrooms as a disorderly persons offense.

Lawmakers Voted To Approve Marijuana Legalization Bills In Four States This Week

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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