Not too long ago New Jersey approved medical marijuana being distributed within the State. Now is appears that some of the previous penalties for simple marijuana possession are now being relaxed. In June of 2012 the New Jersey General Assembly passed Assembly Bill 1465 which removes criminal penalties for people found in possession of less than one-half ounce of marijuana. This means that anyone found with fewer than 15 grams of marijuana or about 30 joints will not be charged with a criminal offense.
One of the most common drug possession charges is simple marijuana possession. Although it’s titled “simple possession”, the penalties were not so simple and can include a criminal record, a $1,000 fine, a suspended driver’s license and in some cases jail time. The current law holds that when someone is found in possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana they are charged with a disorderly persons (criminal) offense in NJ.
Usually the problems don’t stop there for individuals who have been found guilty of the charge. A disorderly persons offense and a criminal record usually affects future job employment opportunities and can result in having a person’s professional license suspended.
The new law proposes that the person would be subject to a $150 fine for a first offense, $200 for a second offense and a $500 fine for a third or any subsequent offenses. New Jersey became the 15th state to reduce a charge of marijuana possession from a criminal matter to a civil offense. There is a separate bill before the NJ Senate to decriminalize up to 50 grams of marijuana, however the bill is still pending approval.
Many individuals supported the bill stating that for years the punishment did not fit the crime. The supporters argued that there are long-lasting consequences to those who are caught with marijuana and that the lives of teens are significantly changed because they are tagged as a criminal.
Finally, even law enforcement officials have stated that an inordinate amount of time is spent prosecuting a person caught with one joint and in a struggling economy it does not help to waste taxpayer money on this issue, especially when a conviction usually restricts a person’s ability to get a job and work in the future. The final hurdle however is Gov. Christie who has been quoted in the past as saying that he will veto any bill to decriminalize marijuana.