Vote to Decriminalize Marijuana in New Jersey Postponed
A vote in the State Assembly on the decriminalization of marijuana scheduled for last Thursday was postponed until June. Supporters feel that the bill, which has bi-partisan support, stands a good chance of passing the legislature and reaching Governor Christie for his signature. Supporters cite judicial and correctional cost savings as a reason for decriminalization. They also look to the serious consequences for young people when marked as criminals for life due to youthful mistakes.
(Click Here for a review of the current marijuana laws in New Jersey and the bill to decriminalize marijuana)
Current Marijuana Laws in New Jersey
Our Burlington County criminal defense lawyers understand the serious consequences of a drug conviction, especially on young people. New Jersey residents in possession of 50 grams or less of marijuana may be convicted of a misdemeanor that carries a maximum jail sentence of up to 6 months and a fine up to $1,000. As a result of a drug conviction in New Jersey, employers may ask about past arrests (even if there was no conviction), your right to vote may be suspended, your driver’s license may be suspended, and you may be denied student financial aid.
The Potential Changes
The proposed bill in the State Assembly would make possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana a civil offense, rather than a criminal offense, carrying a fine between $100 and $500. This change would prevent those in possession of small amounts of marijuana from receiving a criminal record.
Proponents of the bill point to taxpayer savings as a result of fewer court proceedings and prison time. According to New Jersey State Police approximately half of all drug abuse violations were due to marijuana. Decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana could lighten the burden on criminal courts and the prison system significantly for relatively smaller scale drug offenders.
Opponents of the bill argue that decriminalization could lead to drug use becoming more widely accepted and send a mixed message to New Jersey’s youth about the severity of drug use.
There are also concerns over the potential for New Jersey’s poorer residents to be disproportionately affected by potential decriminalization. If a resident cannot pay the fine, a bench warrant may be issued and ultimately a failure to appear in court charge may go on the resident’s record, despite the decriminalization of marijuana. This creates two classes of citizens in the eyes of the law, say the bill’s opponents, those who can pay and reap the benefits of decriminalization and those who cannot and continue to be mired in the legal system.
Help with a New Jersey Drug Charge
Regardless of the decriminalization debate in our State Assembly, the first step when faced with a drug charge is to seek the advice of a New Jersey criminal defense attorney. An attorney can help fight the charges, explain the alternatives, and potentially manage the consequences that result from a drug charge or conviction. Our attorneys are here to offer their expertise on drug charges in a time when our state’s laws may be transitioning to decriminalize minor offenses.
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