You could possess up to a pound of marijuana without fear of arrest under a proposed state law.

Under bill S-2535 introduced on Thursday, the distribution and possession of one pound or less of marijuana would still be an unlawful act but with decreased penalties. A first offender would receive a written warning. Second and subsequent offenses would carry a civil penalty of $25, or performance of community service in lieu of payment of a penalty.

“We have been over-penalizing marijuana offenses for far too long. We all know it is not nearly as dangerous as heroin or cocaine and it has no place being classified with them in statute,” state Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, said.

She believes that the tough penalties were intentionally created to target the black community.

Possession of 50 grams or less of marijuana in New Jersey is punishable by a $1,000 fine and a six-month jail sentence.

“The War on Drugs has ravaged communities of color for far too long. While we await voter approval of legalization, we cannot forget about those arrested and incarcerated every day on marijuana-related charges,” state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, said. “By decriminalizing certain marijuana offenses, we can prevent countless unnecessary arrests and the attendant legal consequences over the next seven months.”

Voters will get to decide about the legalization of marijuana in a referendum question in November. Senate President Steve Sweeney could not line up the votes in 2019 to pass legislation legalizing marijuana.

The new bill also address expungement, one of the issues that prevented some senators from approving the legalization bill.

Any arrest, charge or conviction for certain marijuana or hashish offenses that occurred prior to the bill’s effective date would be deemed not to have occurred, so there would be no need to petition the court for an expungement.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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