Trenton – Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senators Nicholas Scutari, Sandra B. Cunningham and M. Teresa Ruiz touted the social justice advantages of cannabis reform legislation during a virtual roundtable with legal experts and social justice advocates.
“From the beginning, the fight to legalize cannabis has been first and foremost a battle for social justice,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “The decriminalization bill that we passed in the Senate two weeks ago is the most sweeping measure of its kind in the country and is a groundbreaking step towards fully legalizing cannabis. I am proud of the criminal justice reforms that the Senate has taken the lead in enacting and I am looking forward to seeing what else we can accomplish in the coming months.”
Panelists in yesterday’s roundtable included New Jersey State Public Defender Joseph Krakora; Richard Todd Edwards, Political Action Chair of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference; Kimberly Yonta, President of the New Jersey State Bar Association; and Christian Estevez, President of the Latino Action Network. The discussion can be viewed online here, on the New Jersey Senate Democrats’ YouTube page.
Discussion focused on S-21, the bill setting up a regulatory and tax structure for the legalized adult-use marijuana sales authorized by voters by constitutional amendment last month, and S-2535, which would decriminalize possession, as well as distribution of small amounts of cannabis.
“Under the new bill, possession of up to six ounces of marijuana will be decriminalized completely, thereby eliminating the ‘one strike and you’re out’ mentality of existing statute,” said Senator Scutari (D-Union). “Those of us who have been inside a courtroom know all too well how devastating a marijuana arrest, even for possession of a small amount, can be for a young person in an economically depressed community. Even lifting the cultivation caps is partly about social justice, allowing for greater opportunities for minorities, women and veterans.”
The decriminalization bill also provides for the automatic expungement of prior convictions for cannabis-related offenses that would not be considered a crime under the new law.
“For the last fifty years, marijuana criminalization has been used as a tool to propel mass incarceration,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “As someone who has worked extensively in reentry services, the importance of removing the criminal penalties for the first time someone is caught dealing small amounts of marijuana cannot be overstated. Rather than sending people away, we can guide them in a positive direction, away from the criminal justice system.”
“These are critical conversations to have now and after enactment. Decriminalization is a key part of ensuring that our marijuana policies protect disenfranchised communities even after legalization is in effect and its passage has to be a priority,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “As we continue to discuss the enabling legislation we must safeguard the major social justice measures the Senate put in to right some of the wrongs for our most impacted communities.”