An effort to decriminalize marijuana proposed after the state’s failed attempt at outright marijuana legalization doesn’t have the support of the Legislature’s top Democrat.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney on Tuesday called the measure, which would significantly lessen penalties for possessing the drug, “problematic” and likened it to legalizing the marijuana black market.
“I’m still trying to get my mind around it,” said Sweeney, D-Gloucester, during an editorial board meeting with the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey. “It enhances the dealer on the corner because if (you’re) selling weed, all you’re getting is a $50 traffic ticket for it.”
“I’m open to conversation, but I’m not there right now,” he added.
Instead, Sweeney said he thinks the attorney general can address penalties for marijuana instead of lawmakers doing it.
In August, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal told prosecutors they had to continue pursuing marijuana cases, but urged them to use discretion considering the impact a conviction can have on employment, parenting rights, immigration and driving abilities.
Sweeney killed marijuana legalization efforts in the Senate last week, opting instead to put the issue before voters in 2020. The decision was the apparent fallout from an ongoing feud with Gov. Phil Murphy, both of whom supported legalization. It also prompted moves to expand access to medical marijuana, the expungement process and decriminalization.
Medical marijuana and expungement bills were advanced by the Assembly on Monday and are slated for additional votes this week. Sweeney supports those measures, but has signaled his opposition to decriminalization, which would need Senate approval and then Murphy’s signature.
On decriminalization he and Murphy are aligned; Murphy has said repeatedly that he does not favor decriminalizing marijuana.
The decriminalization bill proposes downgrading penalties for marijuana possession offenses and punishes what is now a fourth-degree crime, possession of up to 2 ounces, with a $50 fine. Currently fourth-degree possession carries a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine. It was introduced by Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, D-Union, less than 24 hours after Sweeney axed the legal weed effort.