Editor’s Note: After this article was published, Sens. Linda Greenstein and Dawn Addiego told the New Jersey Globe they were supporting and leaning towards supporting decriminalization, respectively. Greenstein was a soft no on legalization in March. Addiego was simply a no.
Senate Democrats fell five votes short of the 21 needed to pass a marijuana legalization bill in March, but it doesn’t look like they’ll have similar problems with decriminalization.
Five senators who opposed legalization have indicated support for decriminalization.
Sens. Declan O’Scanlon, Bob Singer, Ronald Rice and former Gov. Dick Codey are backing the measure, which is expected to see legislative action sometime this month, and Sen. Paul Sarlo is leaning towards a yes vote on the same.
O’Scanlon and Singer both said their support was contingent on possession limits that would not provide safe haven drug dealers.
“It’s got to be some reasonable amount. I don’t know what that amount is, but it can’t be five pounds … When they said five pounds, that’s a wheelbarrow,” Singer said. “So, as long as it’s no crazy amount like that, the answer is absolutely. I’m for decriminalization.”
An expungement bill that was originally tied to a package of cannabis legislation would allow offenders caught with up to five pounds of marijuana to have their records cleaned.
It’s possible that some of the 16 Democrats who intended to vote yes on legalization in March will decide to vote against decriminalization.
Some, including Gov. Phil Murphy, have criticized decriminalization as a half measure that would fortify black markets in the state.
That opposition appears to have fallen away among Murphy and legislative leaders.
The governor, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin have all said they would be open to decriminalizing as a stop gap until a legalization referendum next year.
No decriminalization bill has been posted.
A previous decriminalization bill, introduced in May, backed by members of Sweeney’s leadership team eliminated criminal penalties for possession of less than two ounces of marijuana, though it’s unclear whether the final version will set a higher threshold that could turn away some of decriminalization’s softer backers.
There also isn’t a clear timeline for decriminalization, though a source within the Senate Majority office said it’s possible the legislature will move on decriminalization before the end of the lame duck session.
There’re further complicating factors.
Some Democrats are concerned that decriminalization could hurt their chances of legalizing at the ballot box next year.