Assembly’s not hot on ‘shrooms — they’re holding up pot decriminalization
The change to a marijuana decriminalization bill that downgrades the penalties for possession of so-called ‘magic mushrooms’ didn’t keep the Senate from approving it Monday – but it appears to have tripped up the plan in the Assembly, at least temporarily.
The Senate passed the bill, A1897, in a 29-4 vote despite concerns from both liberal and conservative members. It would decriminalize the possession of up to 6 ounces of marijuana and void a range of pending criminal charges.
Sen. Nia Gill said the bill’s ‘virtual expungement’ isn’t enough because while people will be allowed to say they don’t have a marijuana conviction, some of those court records will remain unsealed, available for prospective federal or out-of-state employers to discover.
“We are prepared to do something that if we did it in the context of consumer goods, they would charge us with consumer fraud,” Gill said.
Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, said she’s speaking with the Administrative Office of the Courts about ways to further improve expungement but for now urged support “for what will be the most progressive bill in the entire country.”
Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, said the proposal can be improved with follow-up legislation but that change is needed now.
“I don’t want us to walk out of this room today and leaving more people without the kind of insurance that they need,” Cunningham said.
They’ll have to wait, though, as the Assembly put off its scheduled vote – apparently over concerns about downgrading the penalties for possession of psychedelic mushrooms. And even if enacted, the bill wouldn’t take effect for four months.
Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, said possession of up to 1 ounce of psychedelic mushrooms wouldn’t be decriminalized but rather reduced to a disorderly person charge for a first offense. The maximum penalty would be six months in jail – rather than up to five years, which Scutari called outrageous.
“I don’t even know why that’s even debatable. It is a simple regrading of a very serious offense for something that’s not that serious, quite frankly,” Scutari said.
But the change appears to have cost the bill support in the Assembly. An earlier version without the shrooms amendment passed 63-10 in June – but a planned vote Monday on the revamped bill in the Assembly was scrapped.
The decriminalization issue might become moot once a legalization bill is passed, as expected in the wake of voter approval of a constitutional amendment legalizing adult-use marijuana two weeks ago.
That bill could be taken up again as soon as Thursday, in committee hearings newly added to the Senate and Assembly calendar. Full voting sessions were added to the schedule for next Monday.
The Assembly Appropriations Committee plans to take up the broader marijuana legalization bill Thursday. The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee is also expected to meet.
Despite the pending legalization bill, Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Bergen, objected to the decriminalization bill due to its details, not the general concept. He said the bill would discourage police from doing their job by preventing the odor of marijuana from being used as probable cause in motor vehicle stops.
“This bill doesn’t defund the police, but it defangs the police,” Cardinale said. “It handcuffs the police.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.