Home>Highlight>Senate advances decriminalization bill, but mushrooms stall movement in Assembly

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

Senate advances decriminalization bill, but mushrooms stall movement in Assembly

By Nikita Biryukov, November 16 2020 8:32 pm

The New Jersey State Senate approved a bill decriminalizing the use of marijuana on Monday, but amendments removing criminal penalties for possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms added in a committee meeting last week stalled its movement in the Assembly.

“For the last fifty years, marijuana criminalization has been used as a tool to propel mass incarceration,” said State Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City). “It has done immeasurable harm to Black and Brown communities around the country, and today we begin to right the ship here in New Jersey.”

The bill changes penalties for possessing one ounce or less of marijuana, or up to five grams of hashish. The first instance of possession gets a written warning.

Future violations are a crime in the fourth degree carrying penalties of up to 18 months imprisonment and fines of up to $10,000, or a disorderly persons offense of up to six months imprisonment and a fine of not more than $1,000 if there’s less than 50 grams of marijuana involved.

The bill passed 29-4. Seven members didn’t vote. State Sens. Chris Connors (R-Lacey), Michael Doherty (R-Washington Township), James Holzapfel (R-Toms River) and Nia Gill (D-Newark) voted no.

The Democrat worried over the efficacy of virtual expungements made available by the bill and by alterations it made to penalties for possession of psilocybin.

New Jersey voters approved a ballot question legalizing recreational marijuana use in the Garden State, but lawmakers have yet to pass enabling legislation and marijuana use remains illegal. The decriminalization bill is a stop-gap measure to block cannabis arrests as Democrats in Trenton work to a compromise on marijuana tax rates.

The bill makes possessing an ounce or less of psilocybin a disorderly persons offense. It currently carries a maximum prison term of up to five years in prison and $25,000 in fines.

The measure tore away support in the Assembly, where some members argued decriminalization of hallucinogenic mushrooms didn’t carry the same urgency as marijuana.

“The decriminalization of marijuana debate has always been about the opportunity to address these wrongful policies and begin to reverse the damage done through decades of racial and social injustice. Not mushrooms,” Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Newark) said.

Some groups, including the state ACLU, said the delaying decriminalization would be more harmful.

“We thank the Senate and the bill sponsors, and in particular Senator Teresa Ruiz, for their leadership and action on decriminalization. We strongly urge the Assembly to pass the bill and alleviate the human suffering caused by marijuana arrests as soon as possible,” ACLU-NJ Policy Director Sarah Fajardo said. “Until further legislative action is taken, arrests will continue for a substance that voters have said should be legal, and more devastation will be added to people’s lives as legalization is in sight.”

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