NJ needs immediate decriminalization to curb marijuana-related arrests, and legislation to implement legalization that puts racial justice at the fore

TRENTON – A bill to decriminalize marijuana advanced in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today, signaling an important first step to halting marijuana-related arrests immediately, before cannabis becomes legal in the state.

The ACLU-NJ praised lawmakers, including prime sponsor Sen. Teresa Ruiz in the Senate and Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly in the Assembly, for taking a significant first step to reduce our state’s racially disparate marijuana arrests by advancing S2535/A1897. Black people are arrested at 3.5 times the rate of white people, despite similar usage, making decriminalization a matter of racial justice. S2535/A1897 will decriminalize low-level possession of cannabis, dismiss pending cannabis-related charges, and create opportunities for individuals to win relief from criminal legal system consequences for a substance that will soon be legal.

The committee vote took place as the Senate committee, along with the Assembly Appropriations Committee, rescheduled a vote that had been posted on legislation to implement legalization, amid calls for amendments to secure racial and social justice in New Jersey’s legalization scheme. Advocates are seeking provisions to invest in communities most harmed by marijuana prohibition, make the industry accessible and equitable, and fund expungement for those with cannabis-related records.

Without immediate decriminalization, arrests for marijuana-related charges will continue, and along racially disparate lines. An arrest for a marijuana-related charge occurs, on average, once every 15 minutes in New Jersey.

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

“The voters have approved legalization, but without decriminalization, the arrests – and all of the harmful, tragic consequences of racially disparate enforcement – will continue. It’s imperative that the Legislature act to stop marijuana-related arrests immediately, and today’s committee vote brings us one step closer to attaining that justice.

No one should have to suffer the harm of a marijuana arrest, especially now that legalization is on the horizon, and we need decriminalization immediately to prevent more suffering. Prohibition has harmed too many already, and it would be unconscionable to add more devastation to people's lives when legalization is in sight.”