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State Sen. Teresa Ruiz. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Ruiz: Decrim bill could come by end of March

Measure unlikely to face any real opposition

By Nikita Biryukov, February 13 2020 5:12 pm

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz said she’s hoping to finalize a marijuana decriminalization bill by the end of March.

Lawmakers are modelling the measure on the decriminalization bills Ruiz, State Sen. Sandra Cunningham and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano introduced last year.

The Assembly Appropriations committee advanced the Quijano’s bill in the legislature’s last session, but versions in both chambers were largely sidelined by last year’s doomed push to legalize marijuana.

A whip count conducted by the New Jersey Globe found that decriminalization would face few hurdles to legalization.

At least nine senators who opposed legalization told the New Jersey Globe they would support the more muted measure, though some of that support hinged on penalties for distribution. Two other senators, Kristin Corrado and Michael Testa, said they were undecided.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Senate President Steve Sweeny and Gov. Phil Murphy have all expressed support for decriminalization as a stop-gap measure until New Jersey residents vote on a legalization ballot measure this November.

Much of the impetus for an interim fix to the state’s marijuana laws can be attributed to an expungement bill Murphy signed into law in December.

That bill allows people with low-level marijuana offenses to clear their criminal records, though marijuana possession remains illegal.

It’s not yet clear how the new decriminalization bill will differ from last year’s version, though the changes will likely involve tweaks to the amount of marijuana residents are allowed to possess.

Ruiz and Cunningham will meet with State Sen. Ronald Rice, a chief Democratic legalization opponent who lobbied for decriminalization last year, in the coming days to discuss the changes.

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