A bipartisan coalition of New Jersey lawmakers are supporting legislation that would legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, provided the voters agree.
The bill, A-2842, would schedule a referendum on whether to amend the criminal statutes to erase penalties for possession of an ounce or less of the drug. Currently, possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana for personal use constitutes a disorderly persons offense in NJ (2C:35-10). A conviction here carries a possible one-year jail sentence and a fine of up to $1,000. Enforcing this law subjects non-violent drug offenders to serious, life altering consequences, while occupying valuable law enforcement resources that could be better spent focusing on more serious matters.
Supporters of this proposed legislation include the New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association. Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, himself a municipal prosecutor in Lawrence, Princeton and Hopewell, is one of the bills co-sponsors, along with Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carrol, R-Morris.
“If you talk to a lot of people in law enforcement. they’ll tell you that police have better things to do with their time,” says Gusciora. “Just as a prosecutor, 90 percent of my drug cases are marijuana, and 90 percent of them are the joint in the ashtray… It really is a prosecutorial headache.”
The referendum would go on the ballot at the next general election after enactment, as long as it were enacted 70 days or more prior to that date.
Asked to comment on A-2842, Gov. Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak referred to Christie’s remarks from Dec. 2, when he said that such a change in the law “will not happen on my watch ever.” Of course, a veto by the Governor would be meaningless if enough lawmakers voted to override it. Given the groundswell of support in favor of such a measure, as well as its potential to generate significant tax revenue, an override is certainly plausible.