Marijuana decriminalization is seen by New Jersey’s governor as Plan B for cannabis reform after full marijuana legalization could not be achieved.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D) recently announced he is advocating that his state’s legislature pass a decriminalization bill, even as a referendum on adult-use cannabis is expected to go before voters in 2020.
“Decriminalization of adult-use marijuana cannot be our long-term solution, but we now must turn to it for critical short-term relief while we await a ballot measure on legalization next November,” Murphy announced in a press release. “Maintaining a status quo that sees roughly 600 individuals, disproportionately people of color, arrested in New Jersey every week for low-level drug offenses is wholly unacceptable.”
“I look forward to working with Senate and Assembly leadership, as well as members of the New Jersey Legislative Black and Latino Caucuses, to pass sensible decriminalization legislation as soon as possible,” he added.
Murphy’s announcement arrives months after word came that a full marijuana legalization bill progressing through the legislature was dead, even as many were hoping that it could be passed by the end of the year.
New Jersey cannabis-supporting lawmakers, including State Senate President Steve Sweeney, opted to push for a ballot referendum instead.
We must decriminalize adult-use marijuana while we await a ballot measure on legalization in November. Maintaining a status quo that sees roughly 600 individuals, disproportionately people of color, arrested in New Jersey every week for low-level drug offenses is unacceptable.
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) November 26, 2019
Sweeney told NJ.com that he is not particularly keen on decriminalization, because he fears it would only facilitate the illegal market.
“My largest concern is that we just make the black market that much stronger,” he explained. “But I’m open to doing something because it’s gonna be a year before we get this done. We’ve got to figure something out.”
Marijuana Arrests in NJ
More than 100 people in New Jersey are being arrested every day for marijuana possession, distribution, or both, according to a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. The ACLU-NJ data shows that arrests have jumped about 35 percent over a four-year period.
The FBI corroborated the high number of cannabis arrests, naming New Jersey as the third-highest state for cannabis arrests behind Texas and New York.
The ACLU-NJ report also reveals a three-to-one disparity in black-white arrest rates for marijuana possession.
“In the span of these four years of data, support for legalization has grown to unprecedented heights – and yet arrest numbers have skyrocketed and racial disparities have persisted,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Director Sarah Fajardo.
Because a vote for legalization failed through the legislature, the proposal to put it on the ballot next year as a referendum was offered as an alternative.
Tri-State Planning Legalization
Murphy is working closely with the governors of New York and Connecticut, who are looking to push for marijuana legalization as well.
The three governors recently met to discuss the issue. New York is expected to legalize during its legislative session which runs from January to June. Many felt New York Governor Andrew Cuomo could have done more earlier, though he did sign a decriminalization bill. He only began supporting legalization after being challenged on the issue.
Coordinating legalization makes sense because it is thought that if one state legalizes, it would encourage citizens from the other two to visit there which would only result in a loss of tax dollars.