N.J. Assembly set to vote on marijuana decriminalization

The New Jersey Assembly is set to vote on a measure Monday that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The bill would make a first-time pot bust more like getting a traffic ticket: Get caught with up to 15 grams – or half an ounce — and get a $150 citation.

Right now, possession of the same amount will get you a disorderly persons offense, up to a $1,000 fine and a possible six months in the slammer.

Roseanne Scotti, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, says the bill has strong bipartisan support.

“There are about 20 sponsors in the Assembly on the bill, many Republicans,” she said. “The bill was voted out of committee unanimously. There were about 40 groups there in support of the bill, and no one in opposition.”

Scotti says a current drug conviction for marijuana can make it difficult to get public housing or student loans.

She’s also making an economic argument.

“There are about 22,000 people arrested a year just for marijuana possession in New Jersey, and those people take up the time in the courts, they lose time in their jobs, they take time from police officers to come in and testify against them,” she said. “That’s costing our municipalities a lot of money.”

Critics such as the New Jersey Prevention Network, a public health agency working to prevent substance abuse, say the bill sends the wrong message — that marijuana use is acceptable.

The New Jersey Senate will likely take up the bill in the fall.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.