Moving to create more equitable laws on the possession and personal use cannabis and establish expedited and virtual expungements, the Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee approved legislation sponsored by Assembly members Benjie Wimberly, Annette Quijano, Jamel Holley, Britnee Timberlake and Angela McKnight on Monday.
“This is only one piece of the many parts of change that must be done in the name of social justice for our communities. The War on Drugs in many ways became a war on particular communities, incarcerating millions of people and affecting families irreparably for decades,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic). “The action we take now to help our black and brown communities who have been disproportionately affected by current laws surrounding cannabis use is critical to trauma for future generations.”
“There have been far too many people, especially those from Black and Hispanic communities, who have been negatively impacted by the criminalization of cannabis,” said Quijano (D-Union). “There have been long term impacts on the lives of all people in this state, but considerably those of color. This legislation is the product of taking a hard look at our current laws, listening to the will of the majority of New Jerseyans and taking a common-sense approach to cannabis offenses.”
The bill (A-1897/4279) provides for certain criminal and civil justice reforms, particularly with respect to legal consequences associated with certain cannabis offenses as well as broadening awareness of available expungement relief.
“Black New Jerseyans are up to four times more likely to be arrested on cannabis charges than White people. It is a sad fact, a further painful reminder that so people in our communities have been disenfranchised for far too long,” said Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Union). “There have always been glaring social justice concerns and obvious inequity in the high number of arrests of minority residents. Now, finally, is the time for it to stop.”
New Jersey law enforcement officers made over 24,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, more than in the previous 20 years – approximately one every 22 minutes. African Americans are nearly three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis passion than white New Jerseyans, despite similar usage rates with white counterparts. Cannabis possession arrests also constituted three out of five drug arrests in 2012.
The state spends approximately $127 million per year on cannabis possession enforcement costs.
“It’s time for the change we seek,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “New Jersey residents are not happy with the status quo and we need to move in a direction of compassion for the communities that have long been targeted by current regulatory criteria. The call for action, for social justice reform, is resounding throughout our nation. And it begins with legislation such as this.”
“Decriminalization and expungement for those who have been disproportionately incarcerated for marijuana offenses is well overdue in New Jersey and many other states throughout this nation,” said Timberlake (D-Essex). “A criminal marijuana charge has a detrimental effect on an individual’s opportunity to access higher education, obtain gainful employment, receive housing support, and address child custody issues. Not all communities are impacted equally by marijuana enforcement, measures to reduce the collateral consequences of criminal records are ones of racial, social, and economic justice. This legislation is about social justice for a people who have endured the inequities in the law for generations.”
The bill would regrade the unlawful distribution of, or possessing or having under control with intent to distribute, less than five pounds of marijuana or less than one pound of hashish.
Under current law, distribution of less than five pounds, but at least one ounce or more, of marijuana, or distribution of less than one pound, but at least five grams or more, of hashish, is punishable as a crime of the third degree; this crime can be punishable by a term of imprisonment of three to five years, a fine of up to $25,000, or both. Distribution of any smaller amounts, that is, less than one ounce of marijuana or less than five grams of hashish, is punishable as a crime of the fourth degree; this crime can be punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 18 months, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.