The New Jersey lawmakers who introduced a so-called “clean-up” bill requested by Gov. Phil Murphy (D) in order for him to sign cannabis legalization bills have pulled their support for the measure with no plans to revisit it, Politico reports.
Murphy has delayed signing the voter- and Legislature-approved bill over technical issues that shield minors from cannabis-related penalties. Democratic Sens. Teresa Ruiz and Nicholas Scutari sponsored the compromise measure last week which imposed a $250 fine for individuals 18 to 20-years-old caught with up to six ounces of cannabis and a $500 fine for possessing more than six ounces. Those under 18 would not have to pay a fine but could face juvenile delinquency penalties, such as community service.
The state’s decriminalization bill – which is also being held up by Murphy as he wants to sign the reforms as a package – removed all penalties for those under 21 while the legalization bill only includes a petty disorderly persons offense for those younger than 21 caught with up to an ounce.
An unnamed administration official told Politico that were Murphy to sign the bills without the compromise measure, New Jersey would be “the only state to legalize marijuana for minors.”
Brandon McKoy, of New Jersey Policy Perspective, told Politico that the impasse has wound up “threatening the whole of cannabis legalization which has been worked on for so long.”
Ruiz explained that removing penalties for underage offenders was the lawmakers’ intent.
“This is a policy perspective. This is not a drafting issue or a regulation issue. That’s why the bills moved forward the way they did.” – Ruiz to Politico
During a Monday news conference, Murphy said he was “still optimistic” an agreement could be struck but that officials “got to somehow thread the needle” to address the concerns. He added that while he doesn’t want “more kids getting tangled up in the criminal justice system” the reforms were “never about legalizing marijuana for our kids.”
“That was never what this was about,” the governor said during his remarks. “That’s not what the voters voted on in the referendum. That’s not what we’ve felt strongly and passionate about.”
In November, New Jersey voters passed the Legislature-approved ballot initiative to legalize cannabis by a 2:1 margin.