- This story was updated with comment from State Sen. Ron Rice (D-Newark) at 4:47 p.m.
An Assembly panel advanced a new bill to clean up legalization and decriminalization measures that have sat on Gov. Phil Murphy’s since December in the latest attempt to break a legislative standstill on marijuana.
The new bill largely mirrors a defunct cleanup bill that died earlier this month after Senate sponsors pulled their support over objections from the Legislative Black and Latino Caucuses, whose members worried it contained provisions that would enable stop-and-frisk policies and harm Black and Brown youth.
Black lawmakers — led by State Sen. Ron Rice (D-Newark), a legalization opponent who chairs the Black Caucus — opposed stationhouse adjustments and curbside warnings, intervention methods meant to change behavior without criminal or civil penalties that the original cleanup bill laid out as punishments for minors found in possession of marijuana.
The latest version replaces those with “juvenile interventions” and “point of violation warnings,” policies that are identical in all but name, though the new cleanup bill does eliminate marijuana odor as a cause for searches. Those stops must be reported to the state attorney general twice a year starting on June, 30, 2021.
It’s not clear whether the name change will have any effect on Black lawmakers’ opposition. Rice told the New Jersey Globe the cleanup bill was a good start but added didn’t think the Senate should put a bill up until further concerns were addressed.
Opposition in the Legislative Black Caucus isn’t universal, though it’s not clear whether its members will be willing to break in large enough numbers to get it through the Senate.
The new cleanup bill also pares down fines levied on smokers aged 18 to 20.
Instead of the fines of up to $250 — or up to $500 if they were found with more than six ounces of marijuana — provided for in the original cleanup bill, the new version would levy fines of $50 and $100, depending on the amount of marijuana.
The shift to discrete fines instead of a range of fines is meant to address advocates’ concerns that penalties for underage possession could be applied unequally, including along racial lines.
The bill cleared the committee in a 4-2 vote along party lines. It’s not clear whether the Senate will introduce an identical measure. A senior source in the chamber told the New Jersey Globe it was “under consideration.”
The timing pushes Murphy onto murky ground. In New Jersey, bills that are not signed into law or vetoed 45 days after reaching the governor’s desk become law at the next quorum call of the chamber they originated in.
In this case, that’s the Assembly, which has its next quorum scheduled on Feb. 8. But Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin can schedule a new quorum as early as Monday to force the legalization and decriminalization bills into the state’s code.