Ruiz Champions Most Progressive Decriminalization Bill in the Country

Senator lauds Assemblyman Wimberly for collaboration on landmark legislation

Trenton – In an effort to stem the tide of the “War on Drugs,” the Senate Judiciary Committee today approved legislation sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore M. Teresa Ruiz and Senators Sandra B. Cunningham, Ronald Rice and Nicholas Scutari, which would reduce the criminal penalties associated with certain cannabis and hashish-related offenses.

“I am proud to have been a driving force behind what will be the most progressive decriminalization bill in the country,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “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.

“Over the last year, we have put in countless hours to finalize the details of this bill. I am grateful we were able to add policy that broadens the social justice lens and that gets at the heart of the bill’s intent and will help ensure that our minority majority communities do not continue to be over penalized for minor drug offenses.”

“I fought hard to ensure this legislation addressed drug paraphernalia, pretrial release, probation and parole implications and the sealing of certain distribution and possession records,” she said. “While this is a great first step in attempting to bring justice and equity to historically impacted communities, I am committed to working on creating innovative solutions to fund racial and social reparations for those communities most impacted.”

The bill, S-2535, would decriminalize possession of up to six ounces of cannabis. Under the bill, distribution of up to one ounce would carry a civil penalty for the first offense and would be a fourth-degree crime for any subsequent offenses. All pending cases that fall under the parameters of the bill would be dismissed.

The bill would create a new form of “virtual” expungement for certain marijuana and hashish offenses. 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.

Under the bill, all records relating to unlawful acts of marijuana or hashish possession or distribution would be sealed.

The bill includes an array of civil justice protections against discrimination for anyone with an arrest, charge or conviction involving certain marijuana or hashish offenses. The bill would also increase penalties for wrongfully disseminating information related to expunged records.

The bill was released from committee by a vote of 6-2-2