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Gusciora Refines Marijuana Decrim Bill

Offers Amendment to include Drug Education Funding and Addiction Evaluation on Third Offense

Deputy Majority Leader Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon) today will seek amendments to his marijuana decriminalization bill to require a portion of the fines go to state drug education programs and allow judges to order an “addiction evaluation” for an offender who is arrested a third time. The main purpose of the bill – to lessen the penalties for minor possession of marijuana – will remain intact.

The amendments to the bill, which is also sponsored on the Democratic side by Assembly members Bonnie Watson Coleman, L. Grace Spencer and Peter Barnes III, are expected to be approved at the Assembly’s 1 pm voting session, setting the stage for the legislation to receive a full Assembly vote in the coming weeks. The legislation was approved unanimously by the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Monday.

“After hours of testimony heard on this legislation, I felt a few minor adjustments were necessary to perfect the legislation,” said Gusciora. “While the majority of committee testimony was favorable to the bill, some felt there should be a drug education component as well as giving judges the flexibility to order drug evaluations for repeat offenders.”

Under the bill (A-1465), a person who is caught possessing 15 grams or less of marijuana would be subject to a $150 fine for a first violation, a $200 fine for a second violation, and a $500 fine for a third or subsequent violation.

Gusciora, along with Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth), will introduce a floor amendment that requires $50 of the violation fines to be allocated to the “Drug Education Program Fund” through the Department of Human Services, Division of Addiction Services; a move that was suggested by Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D-Bergen) during Monday’s committee hearing.

“In our fiscal climate, many municipalities have had to cut important drug and alcohol education programs. This seeks to help keep these programs alive and intact to provide needed treatment and education in our communities,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon).

Additionally, the bill will be amended to permit judges to order a drug addiction evaluation for third time offenders.

“I am confident that with these amendments we will have a model decriminalization bill that realistically addresses persons charged with possession of marijuana,” concluded Gusciora. “Unfortunately under current penalties, the punishment does not fit the crime.”