New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, is “very skeptical” of plans to decriminalize cannabis possession in the state, preferring comprehensive legalization instead, NJ.com reports. The push for adult-use legalization in the Garden State stalled earlier this year after Sweeney and Gov. Phil Murphy were unable to get the 21 votes needed to pass the bill.
“I’m still struggling with it. I want to legalize marijuana. But having dealers on the corner where the worst that’s gonna happen is they get a $50 ticket, in my mind, people will be less fearful.” – Sweeney, to NJ.com
Sweeney indicated that Murphy also favors legalization to decriminalization, but the Senate leader said he is “willing to listen” to the sponsors of the decriminalization bill – which would impose fines of $50 on possession of up to 2 ounces of cannabis.
Sweeney suggested that in lieu of on-the-books decriminalization, the “best course of action” might be for the governor to instruct the state attorney general to not prosecute low-level possession crimes. Attorney General Gurbir Grewal told NJ.com that while city prosecutors can’t adopt their own decriminalization policies, they should use their discretion and prosecute such crimes on a case-by-case basis.
Alyana Alfaro, Murphy’s spokesperson, said that while giving municipal prosecutors leeway in enforcement is “an important step,” the governor “believes that legalization must be the ultimate end goal in order to prevent continued injustices.”
State Sen. Ronald Rice said Murphy is “wrong” about his decriminalization position and “trying to find reasons to justify his wrongness.”
“It was OK to get us out immediately if we legalize it. But now they can’t make money, we’re gonna stay in jail because they can’t make money,” Rice said.
Following the failed legislative legalization bid, Murphy used an executive order to expand the state’s medical cannabis regime to reduce patient and caregiver fees and change the permitting structure. Sweeney said earlier this month that he plans on putting the issue to voters via a 2020 ballot initiative.
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