Though earlier plans to fully legalize cannabis in the state of New Jersey have now been pushed back, the state is still working to reform their policies surrounding the plant. Numerous bills have been passed in committees in the last few days with full votes expected before the week is over. Issues covered include decriminalization of cannabis possession, expanding the state’s medical marijuana program and expediting the expungement process for past cannabis convictions.
“Expanding the eligibility for expungement will allow more individuals to remove that stigma and break down those barriers preventing them from reaching their full potential,” Democratic state Sen. Sandra Cunningham said in a statement.
Two different versions of the expungement legislation exist. The Senate version, which was approved by the Health and Human Services Committee, didn’t include decriminalization. The Assembly version would allow individuals with prior convictions for using, possessing or distributing cannabis to petition the courts to have their record cleared. Originally, this bill had decriminalization written into it – but the Assembly Judiciary Committee pulled this out to consider it as a separate matter.
A separate piece of legislation passed by the Assembly Appropriations Committee also advanced the issue of decriminalization this week – which would make possession of 2 ounces (or 56.7 grams) or less of cannabis a civil infraction. Instead of jail time, it would be punishable by a $50 fine.
The other bill that moved forward this week was for medical marijuana expansion, which received unanimous approval in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Shortly after, it also passed in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. This legislation would increase the amount of cannabis that a health practitioner can recommend for their patients from a 90-day supply to up to a year supply.
This particular bill would also increase the amount patients can purchase at a time to 3 ounces and allow patients to purchase from any dispensary – rather than being tied to the one they registered with.
“While the bill’s not perfect … this is still light years ahead of our present program, and it’s at a time when it’s exactly appropriate,” said state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, the bill’s chief sponsor.
While this is not the legalization plan that voters had been hoping for, working on expanding the existing laws is certainly a step in the right direction for the state of New Jersey.