Two New Jersey legislators opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana introduced a bipartisan bill on Thursday that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis and address concerns about racially discriminatory arrests.
The measure, proposed by State Sen. Ronald Rice, a Democrat who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus, and State Sen. Robert Singer, a Republican from Ocean County, would reduce the penalty for possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana to a $100 civil fine for the first violation, $200 for the second, and $500 for subsequent offenses.
“There are more blacks in jail than any other ethnic group for the personal use of marijuana, and that’s a social justice issue,” said Rice, who represents Newark and the surrounding area. He said the measure would allow the inmates to petition the court to be released and have their criminal records expunged. Those arrested for simple possession would no longer face up to six months in jail and would not face the threat of having a criminal record.
But the bill could divert attention from Gov. Murphy’s campaign promise to legalize marijuana at a time when public opinion polls show popular support in the state for legalization has dipped.
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