TRENTON – The governor’s office and Senate leaders are nearing an agreement that would remove criminal charges associated with underage marijuana possession and use, a deal that all sides hope will be the last one required before Gov. Phil Murphy signs the bills to legalize weed in New Jersey.
While negotiations are continuing, legislative sources said Monday that a deal appears likely to remove all penalties for minors — under 18 years old — found in possession of marijuana and levy fines on those between 18 and 21 years old, instead of bringing forth criminal charges.
Cases involving minors would be handled by local police departments and the child’s family, the sources said. Underage users between 18 and 21 years old would be subject to civil penalties of $250 to $500 depending on the amount of marijuana. Details of the negotiations were first reported by Politico New Jersey.
That legal weed threshold is also in place for adults over 21 years old, but they remain subject to a fourth-degree crime if found in possession of more than 6 ounces.
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The sources emphasized that deal wasn’t finalized and was subject to change.
If a deal is announced in the coming days, the Senate could push the bills through a committee hearing this week. A full voting session already is scheduled for Monday.
The issue of minor and underage marijuana use has been seen as the last sticking point, though it was far from the first.
Ever since 2.7 million New Jerseyans voted in favor of legalizing weed — about a 2-to-1 margin, or two-thirds of all voters — lawmakers have been embroiled in negotiations to finalize two pieces of “enabling” legislation, designed to turn the relatively abstract ballot question and constitutional amendment into a concrete, regulated cannabis industry.
As it stands, New Jersey would allow users over 21 years old to possess up to 6 ounces of legal weed. The drug would be sold at state-licensed dispensaries and grown at state-licensed cultivation centers, though only 37 cultivators would be licensed for the first two years.
If the bills are signed into law, legal weed would be subject to three taxes — a 7% sales tax, a $10 to $60 excise tax and an optional 2% tax levied by municipalities where cannabis businesses are located.
All revenue from the excise tax, as well as 70% of the sales tax revenue, would be directed toward “impact zones,” 22 cities in New Jersey where marijuana laws have been enforced the most.
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According to an analysis of arrest data from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, Black people have been arrested for marijuana offenses in New Jersey nearly 3.5 times more than their white counterparts, despite similar usage rates among races.
The arrests of marijuana users under the age of 21 make up a sizeable chunk of those arrests, according to a USA TODAY Network analysis of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program.
In 2016, New Jersey police made 32,279 marijuana arrests, including 11,838 with suspects under 21 years old — about 37% of all pot busts.
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From 2004 to 2016, New Jersey police departments made more and more marijuana arrests per year — but less and less of those under 21 years old, down from about 50% of all arrests.
Mike Davis has spent the last decade covering New Jersey local news, marijuana legalization, transportation and basically whatever else is going on at any given moment. Contact him at [email protected] or @byMikeDavis on Twitter.