In Trenton, New Jersey, an Assembly panel made up of five Democrats and two Republicans, approved a bill that would fine those found with marijuana, rather than send them to jail.
If the bill is passed, anyone found with 15 grams or less of marijuana, which is about 1/2 an ounce or close to 30 joints, would face fines instead of jail time. The first offense would result in a fine of $150, the second offense would see a fine of $200, and the third and any subsequent fines would be $500 per offense.
A major contributor to the legislation, Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris) says the change reflects the publics opinion that marijuana possession should not be treated as a criminal act. People feel that the current penalties for possession of marijuana are too severe. “Some acts harm society, and they warrant the intervention of police, prosecutors and perhaps even incarceration,” Carroll said. “Other acts warrant at best, a spanking, and these seems to be one of these situations.”
The bill still must pass both legislative chambers, and be approved by the Governor, Chris Christie, before it could go into effect. Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Governor Christie, said the Governor would not comment on pending legislation.
Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Peter Barnes III (D-Middlesex), is hopeful the bill will pass. He feels it lines up with Governor Christie’s views on nonviolent drug offenders, where he proposes mandatory drug treatment, instead of jail time. Since the bill has bipartisan support, Barnes believes it stands a good chance of being passed. “This is a bill that once the governor and his staff take a look at it, is right in line with a lot of things he is trying to do,” Barnes said.
There are proponents and opponents of this bill. Those that are for the bill state that it will prevent people, who are otherwise good citizens, from losing their jobs, having a hard time finding a place to live, and will make finding employment easier. Opponents of this bill feel that it will be sending the wrong message to our young people, and may encourage them to use marijuana, as they would feel it is a safe drug. A Ritgers-Eagleton poll, taken last year, showed that 60% of registered voters felt that marijuana possession laws should be relaxed.
Rachel Cortino, an attorney for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws’ New Jersey chapter, would like to see adjustments to marijuana possession laws so that the punishment fits the crime. She feels that people should not be prosecuted because instead of drinking a beer to relax, they smoke a joint to relax.
Should the bill pass, New Jersey will be the 15th state to reduce the marijuana possession charge to a civil offense and not a criminal one.