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Ruiz, Rice, Cunningham Introduce Legislation to Reduce Certain Criminal Penalties

Trenton – Criminal penalties would be reduced for certain cannabis and hashish-related offenses under legislation introduced today by Senate President Pro Tempore Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, Senator Ronald Rice and Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham. The bill would also provide an array of civil protections and promote awareness of the expungement process.

“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,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “By decriminalizing certain marijuana offenses, we can prevent countless unnecessary arrests and the attendant legal consequences over the next seven months.”

Under the bill, S-2535, distribution and possession of one pound or less of marijuana would be an unlawful act, subject first to 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. 

“Whether or not voters decide to legalize marijuana in November, this should not change our stance on moving forward with the decriminalization of marijuana,” said Senator Rice (D-Essex). “We cannot wait until the fall while countless members of the black and brown communities are targeted for marijuana-related offenses. If this state really wants to push social justice reform without an economic reward, this is how you achieve that goal.”

“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,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “This legislation will right the ship, revising the damaging criminal codes put in place under the war on drugs, which were intentionally created to target the black community.”

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 targeting persons 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.