New Jersey Assembly and Senate committees passed legislation addressing some technical issues and altering youth penalties that were passed in last month’s cannabis legalization and decriminalization bills, bringing New Jersey one step closer to legalizing cannabis in practice.

The bill seeks to impose fines and driver’s license suspension on cannabis possession and use for youth aged 18-21 and divert youth under 18 pre-booking.

The following can be attributed to ACLU-NJ Policy Director Sarah Fajardo:

“Cannabis arrests need to end, and they need to end now – we need legalization and decriminalization signed into law immediately. Today’s clean-up bill is part of that process, but we need to make sure that we do not lose sight of the ultimate goals of ending cannabis prohibition: to ensure that no one is ensnared unjustly in a criminal legal system marked by inequities, and that includes young people.

“Today’s clean-up bill reduces the range of fine amounts for youth aged 18-21 from the originally proposed amount in S21/A21, creates a diversionary program for youth under 18 for cannabis possession.

“It also adds license suspension as a punishment for cannabis use by minors, despite efforts statewide to limit this practice for adults because of its unequal effects and injustices. A license is a necessity to get to work and school for a significant number of New Jerseyans, including those under 21, and disrupting their lives by taking away their opportunities harms everyone.

“Though today’s amendments eliminate direct criminal penalties for cannabis, we do know that the inability to pay or fulfill conditions can result in criminal-legal consequences, and that suspending a license can derail a person’s life.  

“New Jersey’s juvenile justice system, as a whole, has undergone major shifts in recognition of the long-term harm it can do to young people, and in recognition of the severe racial disparities that define our youth justice system. We are committed to building on this progress and instituting restorative and innovative approaches to deterring youth use that rely on public health approaches. 

“We thank the Legislature for today’s amendments to A5211/S3320, and will continue working to reduce the harms of our current cannabis laws to youth across the state.”