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Breaking: Bill To Decriminalize Marijuana Possession Moves Forward In New Jersey

[Update: The full Assembly is now scheduled to vote on A. 1465 this THURSDAY, MAY 24. For the first time in many years, there is now political momentum in New Jersey to mitigate marijuana possession penalties. If you reside in New Jersey, your member of the Assembly needs to hear from you NOW. Contact your state lawmakers via NORML's 'Take Action Center' here.]

Members of the state Assembly Judiciary Committee voted unanimously today in favor of Assembly Bill 1465, bi-partisan legislation which reduces criminal penalties for those who possess personal use quantities of marijuana.

Witnesses who testified at the hearing were almost uniformly in favor of the legislation, which is similar to the laws of 14 other states. You can read NORML’s written testimony to the Committee here.

Assembly Bill 1465 removes criminal penalties for the possession of up to 15 grams (approximately one-half ounce) of marijuana, replacing them with civil penalties punishable by no more than a $150 fine and no criminal record. Under present law, the possession of minor amounts of marijuana is a criminal offense punishable by up to six-months in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Last year, Connecticut NORML spearheaded a successful legislative effort in that state to pass a nearly identical marijuana decriminalization bill. Passage of that measure has since led to a dramatic decline in the total number of marijuana arrests.

In 2009 (the most recent year for which data is available), 22,439 New Jersey citizens were arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Passage of A. 1465 measure would spare many of these citizens from criminal arrest, prosecution, and incarceration, as well as the emotional and financial hardships that follow — including the loss of certain jobs, students loans, federal and state subsidies, and child custody rights. Further, this change would provide immediate legal protections for some New Jersey patients, who presently benefit from the therapeutic use of cannabis, but remain at risk because the state’s two-and-a-half year-old medical marijuana law remains inactive.

A. 1465 is now pending before the full Assembly. Separate Senate legislation to decriminalize cannabis possession has not yet been scheduled for a hearing. For decriminalization to become reality in New Jersey, the measure must pass both the Assembly and the Senate. The measure would then await action from Gov. Chris Christie.

If you reside in the Garden State, you are urged to please contact your member of the state Assembly and urge them to vote ‘yes’ on A. 1465 by visiting NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.

Additional information is available from NORML New Jersey here or via CMM-NJ here.

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