New Jersey has some of the strictest marijuana laws in the US. After a failed attempt last year, the state is proposing a ballot for the legalization of adult-use cannabis in November 2020. The Democrats have shown their support for legalization throughout the process. Recently, New Jersey Governor Phil Murray suggested decriminalizing marijuana until legalization.
Marijuana arrests in New Jersey
New Jersey’s marijuana arrests have been increasing year after year. As per FBI data, in 2017, New Jersey police arrested 34,501 people for simple possession of marijuana. The state also arrested 3,122 people for selling marijuana illegally. State arrests increased by 2,500 compared to 2016.
New Jersey arrests for marijuana possession are the third highest in the country after Texas and New York. The state’s arrest rate is far higher than the national average. As per the report, black New Jerseyans are more likely to be arrested than other races. The arrest rates of black New Jerseyans are three times higher than white New Jerseyans even though usage rates are similar. Simple possession of up to 50 grams of marijuana can lead to a maximum penalty of a fine and six months of jail time. Even some first-time offenders serve time in prison.
Alyana Alfaro, Murphy’s press secretary, said, “Gov. Murphy has repeatedly said that he believes legalization of adult-use marijuana is critical to eliminating disparities in the criminal justice system, Each week that marijuana remains illegal, approximately 600 people in New Jersey will be arrested for low-level drug crimes, with the majority of those being people of color.”
Murphy suggested decriminalizing marijuana as an immediate measure, as the fate of recreational marijuana is uncertain until November next year. He claimed that decriminalization is a necessity as a temporary measure until the poll. Decriminalization would mean that those found to be in possession of marijuana would get a fine instead of jail time. However, selling marijuana would still be a criminal offense.
Murray said, “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. 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.”
Previously, Murphy had demanded that the state legalize marijuana outright. He believed mere decriminalization could lead to more movement in the black market. At present, Murphy is planning to work with other administrators in the state to prepare sensible decriminalization laws. Before Murphy can sign it, the decriminalization bill must pass both the Senate and the General Assembly. Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney is skeptical about the idea. However, he has said he’s open to doing something, as legalization will potentially take another year.