(TRENTON) — Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer) and Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter J. Barnes III (D-Middlesex) issued a multimedia package Tuesday on their legislation to decriminalize possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana.
Under current law, possession of up to 50 grams of marijuana is a disorderly persons offense, which carries penalties of up to $1,000 and six months in jail.
The bill (A-1465) would instead create a series of civil penalties for anyone caught in possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana: $150 for the first offense; $200 for a second offense; and $500 for a third or subsequent offense. Likewise, a person who is caught in possession of drug paraphernalia for the personal use of up to 15 grams of marijuana would be subject to a $100 fine under the measure.
Additionally, under the bill it would no longer be a disorderly persons offense to be under the influence of marijuana or to fail to voluntarily deliver the drug to the nearest law enforcement officer. It also would eliminate the provision that an individual who operates a motor vehicle while in possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana forfeit the right to operate a motor vehicle for two years.
Finally, anyone under the age of 21 who is caught with marijuana and anyone over 21 who is caught three times would be required to undergo a drug education program.
The multimedia package consists of a video of Assembly members Watson Coleman and Barnes discussing their legislation and audio and a transcript of same.
The audio file is available upon request.
A transcript of comments from the legislators is appended below:
Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer):
“We listened to a range of testimony and we recognize, and have been recognizing, that our response to the possession of small amounts of marijuana has really been sort of out of whack with the actual action itself.
“Decriminalizing marijuana means that it is not a criminal act to be in possession of 15 grams or less, but it is still a civil action. You will pay a fine if you are found to have that amount, or less, of marijuana in your possession.”
Assemblyman Peter J. Barnes III (D-Middlesex), Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair:
“What we’re finding, more and more, are the people who use marijuana tend to be young: high school, college or early adulthood. A lot of times they tend to be members of so-called minority populations. And a lot of times a small indiscretion, certainly the second indiscretion, if not expunged will create a permanent criminal record. So a person, even if it’s handled in municipal court, even if it’s a small offense, they have a criminal record for life that, under certain circumstances, cannot be expunged.
“And what are the ramifications? Well, the ramifications in this recession are that that person really might not ever be able to get a decent job and certainly that they’re going to have a criminal record for life if it can’t be expunged.”
“There’s nothing about what we’re considering today that says it’s okay for individuals to be smoking marijuana in public or smoking it in general. It is simply saying that, if you are caught with marijuana in your possession, then you will be subject to a fine.
“There is a penalty to that behavior but it is not a criminal penalty. It is a civil penalty.”