Advocates gave the newest bill establishing penalties for underage marijuana use good, if mixed, marks during a committee hearing Monday, and while the front office’s concerns haven’t been fully addressed, legislative sources expect Gov. Phil Murphy to approve the measure when it reaches his desk anyway.
The latest cleanup bill, introduced in the Senate Thursday and due for a committee vote Tuesday, does away with stationhouse adjustments and curbside warnings, intervention methods for underage marijuana users that brought objections from members of the Legislative Black and Latino Caucuses, in favor written warnings for marijuana users under the age of 18 that eventually graduate to community service or a fine of up to $50.
Those aged 18, 19 or 20 would be subject to the fine on their first offense without the option of community service.
But even those provisions are still in flux. State Sens. Nellie Pou (D-Paterson) and Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) during the hearing said the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday would consider amendments removing the fines for minors altogether.
“One of the amendments that our bill tomorrow hopefully will reflect is the fact that we will be removing the civil penalty fines of the $50,” said Pou, who chairs the Legislative Latino Caucus. “I know we’ve heard testimony here today about what the impact of what that may or may not do.”
The amendment would keep fines in place for users aged 18, 19 and 20.
They’re also considering a provision, sought by Black and Latino legislators, that would make police officers who search minors on the basis of a marijuana offense subject to penalties.
Despite the new movements — and the looming deadline created by Thursday’s Assembly quorum — lawmakers under the golden dome haven’t yet reached an agreement with their counterparts at 225 West State St.
“There’s still work that needs to be done on the cleanup bill,” a senior administration official told the New Jersey Globe. “We’re working with them in good faith, but there’s still some changes that need to be made.”
The administration official declined to comment on the amendments, but legislative sources said all parties are eager to be done with marijuana legalization, which voters overwhelmingly approved at the polls more than three months ago, and expect Murphy to sign the bill along with legalization and decriminalization bills that have sat on his desk since mid-December.
The latter measures will likely be signed Thursday, when both chambers will convene for rare morning voting sessions ahead of an Assembly quorum that would make the bills law at noon without Murphy’s signature, though the governor could still veto the bills.
Senate President Steve Sweeney has said his chamber would not concur with a conditional veto, meaning the process will start from scratch if Murphy strikes those bills.
Though Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin earlier this month delayed an Assembly quorum that would have made the legalization and decriminalization bills law without his signature. Two legislative sources said the speaker did not intend to further delay the chamber’s lawmaking process over the impasse on marijuana.
At up to $50, the fine resembles a provision present in past cleanup bills. A version introduced earlier this month would have levied fines of $50 or $100 on underage users aged 18 and older but limited penalties for minors to point-of-violation warnings and juvenile interventions, policies identical to curbside interventions and stationhouse adjustments in all but name.
A still earlier version that died in January after objections from Black and Latino legislators would have imposed fines of up to $250 or up to $500 on 18, 19 and 20-year-olds while limiting penalties for minors to curbside interventions and stationhouse adjustments.
Much of Monday’s testimony focused on penalties for underage users, with most favorably regarding the new provisions despite some apprehension.
The state branch of the ACLU, along with Laura Cohen, the director of Rutgers University’s Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic, urged the retention period for written warnings be reduced to six months.
She and others warned the fines could still expose underage users to the court system. That exposure, they said, could harm young people. Representatives from the state branches of the NAACP and the ACLU urged the bill be amended to remove fines for third-time underage offenders and replace them with referrals to community-based services.
Rev. Charles Boyer, the founding director of Salvation and Social Justice, called for the bill to include penalties for police officers who ignore the bill’s prohibition of marijuana odor as cause for a search.
“It is necessary that the bill explicitly either fines, sanctions or disciplines officers who violate the smell test prohibition, the body cam requirements that are laid out here or disproportionately target youth of color,” he said.