The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill to clean up the state’s yet-unsigned legal marijuana enabling legislation Thursday in a party-line vote.
The new bill makes a number of technical changes, including to allow persons convicted of marijuana and hashish offenses to expunge those offenses sooner and reduces penalties for underage possession.
Minors found in possession of marijuana would be subject only to “curbside warnings” or “stationhouse adjustments” from officers, policies aimed to change behavior without criminal or civil penalties.
Amendments announced Tuesday would have imposed fines of up to $250 for 18, 19 and 20-year-olds in possession of less than six ounces of marijuana, the legal limit under the unsigned legalization bill. Those fines would be increased to up to $500 for possession of more than six ounces of marijuana for people in the same age group.
The cleanup bill does bolster penalties — for minors and adults — found in possession of marijuana on school property. That would be a disorderly persons offense.
Most other changes are technical and do not substantively affect the legalization bill, though a provision was changed to give the New Jersey State Police, not the New Jersey Police Training Commission, purview over a developing marijuana recognition program.
Representatives from pro-marijuana groups urged some further changes to the legislation.
Chris Goldstein of NJ NORML raised concerns about provisions referring underage persons found in possession of marijuana to drug treatment and allowing the suspension of drivers’ licenses for the same infractions.
The latter penalty exists today but is rarely enforced, but State Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Linden) said they may be tackled in future cleanups.
“I think you’re going to see more cleanup bills, to be honest with you, in the next sixth months because there will be more issues that come about,” he said. “No doubt in my mind.”
ACLU NJ Policy Director Sarah Fajardo asked the bill be amended to allow community service in lieu of fines for those unable to pay and urged lawmakers to require the reporting of marijuana fines to ensure they were not being applied unequally on the basis of race.
The cleanup bill’s passage is somewhat irregular, though not unprecedented, for Trenton because it would alter a bill that has not yet been signed into law. Typically, changes made at the governor’s request after a bill passes the legislature are forced through a conditional veto.
The measures passed Thursday follow a different path and will allow Murphy to forgo vetoing a marijuana legalization bill he campaigned on in 2017 as he gears up for re-election. The unusual path will allow him to sign already passed legalization and decriminalization bills without changes. He’ll then be able to sign the cleanup bill.
Both chambers are expected to pass the cleanup bill in full votes on Monday.