New Jersey's New Weed Decriminalization Bill Will Also Decriminalize Shrooms
A new bill passed by the state Senate would decriminalize the possession of up to 6 ounces of weed, reduce the penalty for possession of shrooms, and clear pot-related criminal records.
Published on November 17, 2020

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New Jersey lawmakers may have stalled on a new bill to regulate adult-use cannabis sales, but they are pushing ahead with another comprehensive bill to decriminalize cannabis and psilocybin mushrooms.

The Garden State legalized adult-use cannabis retail sales via a popular vote during this year's election, but state lawmakers are still working to pass additional cannabis reform measures. This week, the state Senate voted 29-4 to pass a bill that has been hailed as the country's most comprehensive decriminalization measure. In addition to decriminalizing large quantities of weed, this bill would also reduce the penalty for possessing psilocybin mushrooms.

At first glance, it might seem pointless to decriminalize weed when voters have already legalized it. But, the new bill actually includes a number of measures that expand the scope of the legalization measure. For one, the adult-use law only allows adults to possess up to one ounce of flower, and anyone busted with more than that could still be punished under the state's old prohibition laws. Under the new bill, cops would not be able to impose any penalty at all against anyone caught with up to 6 ounces of pot, or 170 grams of hash.

The bill would also provide “virtual” expungements of cannabis possession convictions. This provision would automatically erase all former weed possession arrests from the state records, removing the need for former offenders to petition to have these charges cleared. The proposal would also block cops from using the odor of marijuana as justification to conduct a search.

Senate President Pro Tempore M. Teresa Ruiz described the new legislation as “the most progressive decriminalization bill in the country” in a press release. “Not only are we decriminalizing possession but also first offenses for low-level distribution, a move which will offer individuals a second chance and ensure they do not become entangled in the system the first time they are caught selling small quantities of marijuana. This is yet another step towards bringing justice and equity to historically impacted communities.”

The decriminalization bill also includes a controversial provision that would downgrade the penalty for possessing up to an ounce of psilocybin mushrooms from a third-degree crime to a “disorderly persons” offense. Under current law, anyone caught with shrooms can be locked away for 3 to 5 years and fined up to $15,000. Under the new proposal, the fine would be reduced to $500 — but jail time is still a possibility.

Even though it is far less progressive than psychedelics decriminalization policies passed in other cities and states, members of the state Assembly have balked at the proposal. Some legislators have made it clear that the only reason that they are backing cannabis reform is to put an end to the disproportionate enforcement of prohibition laws against minority communities, and psilocybin is not commonly used by those communities.

“The decriminalization of marijuana debate has always been about the opportunity to address these wrongful policies & begin to reverse the damage done through decades of racial & social injustice,” state Assemblymember Jamel Holley tweeted. “Not mushrooms!”

The bill does not even actually decriminalize psilocybin, it only lowers the penalty for possession. Even still, this provision has caused enough debate to delay the Assembly's vote on the legislation. It remains to be seen whether the lower chamber will strip this measure from the bill, and if so, whether the Senate will fight to keep it.

Lawmakers are also debating a second major bill that will regulate the adult-use retail market that voters legalized at the beginning of the month. This bill was due to come up for a vote earlier this week, but it was delayed by debates about cannabis retail taxes. Recent reports indicate that the state Senate has resolved its issues on the matter and plans to advance their revised bill for a floor vote next Monday.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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