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New Jersey lawmakers consider decriminalizing minor pot possession

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A state Assembly committee will hold its first hearings Monday on a proposal to make possession of a half-ounce of pot equal to a parking ticket.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee meets at 10 a.m. Monday in the Statehouse Annex to consider Assembly Bill 1465.

It would make a conviction of having 15 grams or less of pot no longer a disorderly persons crime that could send you to prison for six months, cost upwards of $1,600 or more in fines and leave you with a criminal record for at least five years.

Under the new measure, conviction for a first offense is punishable by a fine of $150, for a second $200 and for a third $500 — and no criminal record.

Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance cited a Nov. 2011 Eagleton poll that found 58 percent of New Jerseyans stating think penalties for use of marijuana should be decreased. More than half of those posed said the penalties should be eliminated altogether.

More importantly, Scotti said, records show nearly Nearly 23,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in New Jersey in 2010, up from roughly 20,000 in 2006.

“This is a waste of law enforcement resources and taxpayer money,” she said.

On top of that, “a marijuana conviction can have tragic long-term consequences for individuals,” Scotti said.

“People may lose jobs or be unable to secure employment because of a criminal record,” she said. “Students who incur a marijuana conviction can lose their student loans.”

Finding a home, job, public assistance — sometimes even a driver’s license — can be hurt by a minor possession charge, not to mention the “collateral consequences of a mere arrest that can include immeasurable stigma and humiliation,” Scotti said. “The punishment doesn’t fit the offense.”

Finally, there’s the sometimes unmanageable cost of posting bail, hiring a lawyer and missing work or school.

Fourteen other states have decriminalized small quantities of marijuana for personal use, in amounts ranging from a half- to three ounces: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Oregon.

The bill has dozens of sponsors, including Bergen Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, as well as Hudson Assemblyman Ruben Ramos.

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