Lawmakers back out of NJ’s weed bill


The fate of legislation to legalize marijuana – slated for a vote in the Legislature on Monday – is once again uncertain.

In a Friday caucus meeting with Democratic senators, lawmakers decided to withdraw a so-called clean-up bill the governor demanded to correct what he saw as a flaw in the original bills passed. December 17th.

According to Senator Nicholas Scutari, sponsor of the legalization bill, members of the black and Latino legislative caucuses expressed strong objection to the clean-up bill, which specified penalties for minors caught in possession of marijuana.

Scutari (D-Union) said Sen. Ron Rice and others believe the new bill creates a new way for cops to re-initiate arrest and search tactics on minors – a practice that has fallen. disused in New Jersey police departments.

“This is precisely what I have been saying for a long time. My whole agenda is to keep kids out of the criminal justice system. I can’t support anything that pushes more black and brown children into the system, ”Co-Senator Teresa Ruiz told NJ Spotlight News.

After hearing their concerns, Scutari said he removed his name from the bill, along with Ruiz (D-Essex).

“If Ron Rice and the Black Caucus are against it, so am I,” Scutari said. “The governor is going to have to sign the invoices we sent him, or veto them conditionally. Enough is enough already.

Murphy’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Senate Speaker Steve Sweeney also did not immediately respond to the comments.

Two legislative committees approved identical versions of the clean-up bill on Thursday, NJ A5211 (20R). Under this legislation, law enforcement would be able to issue a “curbside warning” to minors or detain them for a “police station adjustment” that would direct them to counseling, community work or an addiction treatment program.

The changes would also reduce the minimum civil penalties from $ 250 to $ 50 for people between the ages of 18 and 20 caught with less than an ounce of cannabis. For more than one ounce, the penalty ranges from $ 100 to $ 500.

The road to legalizing marijuana for adult use has been long and tortured.

Scutari first proposed legislation in 2017. But the bill went nowhere because the government of the day. Chris Christie was adamantly opposed to legalization. But in 2017, Murphy was elected governor and vowed to legalize weed during his first 100 days in office.

Scutari dusted off his bill, but the legislature was unable to muster enough votes. Instead, they decided to submit it to voters in the form of a constitutional amendment. It went through a 2-1 ratio in November.

The bill has been dusted off again. It became two bills: one to legalize and establish a regulated industry for adult recreational marijuana, and a second to decriminalize possession of marijuana in amounts less than six ounces.

But over the past two months, the the invoices were abruptly withdrawn on a number of objections expressed by lawmakers and social policy advocates. Finally, it appeared that all differences had been resolved and both houses passed the two bills on December 17.

It was soon after that the governor’s office identified what it called “a drafting error” and demanded changes regarding minors.

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