Senate Passage of Marijuana Decriminalization is a Crucial Step to Justice, Yet Assembly Action is Needed

November 16, 2020

Senate votes for decriminalization to curb marijuana-related arrests, but Assembly pulled the bill from floor vote, delaying reduction of arrests

TRENTON – The Senate passed legislation to decriminalize marijuana, an important step toward curbing arrests before cannabis legalization is fully implemented in New Jersey. Yet with the Assembly dropping a scheduled vote on decriminalization, New Jersey will have to wait until the next voting session for the next opportunity to reduce racially disparate marijuana arrests. The next publicly posted voting session for the New Jersey Assembly is November 23, 2020.

The ACLU-NJ praised lawmakers in the Senate, including prime sponsor Sen. Teresa Ruiz, for taking an important step to reduce our state’s racially disparate marijuana arrests by passing 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.

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 Senate took an extraordinarily important step today by passing decriminalization, but, unfortunately, the Assembly’s decision to pull its scheduled vote means marijuana arrests – and all of the harmful, tragic consequences of racially disparate enforcement they come with – will continue until consensus can be reached. 

“We thank the Senate and the bill sponsors, and in particular Senator Teresa Ruiz, for their leadership and action on decriminalization. We strongly urge the Assembly to pass the bill and alleviate the human suffering caused by marijuana arrests as soon as possible. 

“Until further legislative action is taken, arrests will continue for a substance that voters have said should be legal, more devastation will be added to people's lives when legalization is in sight. We urge the Assembly to move swiftly to end this injustice.”

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