Newark, NJ- Marijuana laws in the U.S. are on the cusp of big change and states are leading the charge. Currently, five states have legalized marijuana for recreational use and numerous states have decriminalized minor possession charges. Efforts to pass similar legislation in New Jersey are gaining steam again and some New Jersey lawmakers are taking a closer look at the state’s marijuana laws.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has repeatedly said he would veto any legislation legalizing marijuana for recreational use in the state, and has asserted his refusal to decriminalize possession of even small amounts of marijuana which Gov. Christie says is a “slippery slope” to decriminalization of other drugs.
Not all lawmakers in New Jersey agree with Governor Christie: some plan to hold a public hearing to discuss decriminalization and recreational marijuana laws. Earlier this week, New Jersey State Sen. Nicholas Scutari announced the judiciary committee will hold a public hearing on the issue of marijuana legalization and will include testimony from medical professionals, police, religious leaders and policy experts.
Sen. Scutari has been actively pushing for a change in New Jerseys marijuana laws. He told NJ.com that the state’s laws are “archaic” and said next week’s hearing is “a first step in the process of finally reversing our punitive marijuana laws that have caused harm to our residents and our communities.”
Sen. Scutari also said “the majority of people support regulating, taxing and legalizing marijuana.” It may be difficult to convince some lawmakers to legalize recreational marijuana, but more and more states are moving towards decriminalization. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, between 2001 and 2010 there were 8.2 million marijuana-related arrests in the U.S., 88 percent of those arrested were for possession. Additionally, the ACLU says that at least half of all drug arrests in the U.S. are for marijuana.
In states that haven’t decriminalized, New Jersey included, possession of a small amount of marijuana can result in jail time and a criminal record. This leaves too many people with harsh sentences and a criminal record for what most people consider to be a minor charges.
New Jersey is not among the 19 states that have decriminalized marijuana possession. A 2012 amendment to state statute N.J.S.2C:35-10 would have reduced the penalties associated with marijuana possession. That bill was vetoed. So, currently possessing a small amount of marijuana in New Jersey carries up to a six-month jail sentence. If you possess more than 50 grams you are facing an indictable (felony) charge.
Those strict penalties contrast with softer penalties in states that have decriminalized marijuana. In those states possession of 50 grams or less of marijuana is treated like a traffic ticket; offenders pay a fine, don’t spend any time behind bars and aren’t left with a criminal record.
Whether the upcoming hearings and push for legalization will have an effect on the law remains to be seen. Regardless of what the laws are elsewhere, New Jersey residents passing through New Jersey must abide by New Jersey’s laws or face the potential consequences.
Since marijuana is one of the most commonly used drugs in U.S., many New Jersey residents will at some point face a marijuana-related charge. If you have been charged with possession of marijuana or paraphernalia, a DWI-marijuana or selling marijuana charge, you can contact our Newark office and we can discuss your charges, the penalties you are facing, and what defense strategy will work best in your case. I can’t guarantee an outcome for your case but I can guarantee you that I will work hard on your case so you have a better chance of avoiding a conviction.