New Jersey is debating decriminalization and legalization


Thor Benson / Cannabis News Box Contributor

New Jersey is on the path to legalize cannabis, but some aren’t ready to take that step. It seems they know cannabis laws are going to change, but they don’t want them to change too much. Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill that would instead decriminalize cannabis.

“The bill would allow a person caught with less than 10 grams of cannabis to face a fine of $100 the first time, $200 for the second offense and $500 for future violations,” reports. “Offenders now are subject to six months in jail, a $500 fine, or both.”

There are also multiple bills in the state that would fully legalize cannabis. Recently elected New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is a supporter of legalization, largely for social justice reasons, and these lawmakers are hoping this bill would be a compromise. Some fear legalization is a step too far and would have negative consequences, even though the evidence often shows legalization has more positive outcomes than decriminalization.

“Decriminalization by itself would exacerbate a problem that exists in New Jersey and other places,” Scott Rudder, the president of the board of directors at the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, told Cannabis News Box. Rudder explained that people would be allowed to have cannabis, but there’d still be no legal way to buy it. “You’re still committing a crime through the purchase, and you’re still interacting with drug dealers who have questionable products,” he said.

Rudder believes decriminalization would allow the black market to thrive, while legalization would help eliminate it and help maintain quality standards for cannabis. There have been many reports that cannabis in New Jersey, sold on the black market, is sometimes laced with other dangerous drugs like PCP. Rudder also noted that dealers don’t check IDs.

As it has happened in many other states, it appears there’s still a lot of misinformation surrounding the legalization debate in New Jersey.

“A significant amount of education still needs to occur,” Rudder said. He said people still have “outdated concerns based on old information.”

In terms of who’s motivating the recent push to redirect towards decriminalization, it seems anti-cannabis advocates are helping misinform lawmakers and residents, steering the conversation away from full legalization.

“It’s no coincidence that NJ RAMP were prominent figures at the press conference for decriminalization,” Rudder said. NJ RAMP stands for New Jersey Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy. It is a group associated with Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), which is a national anti-legalization group. Rudder believes larger forces are influencing this debate.

“NJ RAMP is notorious for promoting false information, as well as focusing only on decriminalization,” Rudder said. He said the group often cites studies that make legalization look bad that are old and don’t cite more recent studies that show the benefits of legalization.

New Jersey may be heading toward legalization, but it’s clear there is an opposition to it that is becoming louder and more organized. It remains to be seen if they’ll actually successfully change the debate and slow the legalization process in a significant way