A New Jersey legislative committee voted on Thursday to advance a bill that would decriminalize the possession of marijuana and reduce the penalties for possessing small amounts of psilocybin mushrooms. The move by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee comes only days after New Jersey voters approved a constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis for adults and create a regulated market for recreational marijuana sales in the state.
The bill, S. 2535, which was originally introduced earlier this year, would remove all criminal penalties for the possession of up to six ounces of marijuana. Chris Goldstein, a South Jersey spokesman for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said that approximately 100 people are arrested for marijuana possession in the Garden State every day.
“Justice for marijuana doesn’t start until arrests stop,” Goldstein said. “And the constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis doesn’t do that, but this bill could.”
Magic Mushrooms Surprise Addition To Bill
As the bill was being considered by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, an unidentified senator added an amendment to reduce the possession of up to one ounce of psilocybin mushrooms from a felony to a disorderly person offense. Democratic Sen. Nicholas Scutari, the majority whip, said that he agrees with the change.
“I’m 100% in favor of it. I think most drugs should be decriminalized or at least downgraded to something less than a felony for personal use. You just saw Oregon downgrade heroin and cocaine,” Scutari said, referring to an initiative to decriminalize all drugs that also succeeded in that state at the ballot box last week. “We’re not doing that.”
Newark Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, also a Democrat, introduced the original version of the marijuana decriminalization bill in June. But by the time the amended measure came up for a vote in the committee on Thursday, Ruiz said she was “not happy with the entirety of the bill.”
“But it’s a compromise,” she said. “At least we’ve accomplished something. New Jersey is beginning to right its wrongs.”
Bill Could Pass Next Week
Scutari said that he believes that the bill could be passed by the legislature with a floor vote as early as next week. Once that happens, the measure would head to Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy for his approval and signature.
Ruiz said that the quickness of the process had left her in “a kind of haze” and said that lawmakers should ensure that those in New Jersey’s illicit cannabis market be permitted to participate in legalized commerce. The amended version of the bill also decriminalizes the distribution of up to one ounce of marijuana for the first offense.
“We have to make sure that when we create the next frontier that we’ll have reparations and the opportunity to take someone from the street corner to a storefront,” she said.
“I’m really proud that this bill is unique in its kind,” Ruiz added. “New Jersey will be at the forefront of the decriminalization conversations.”