Murphy won't rule out decriminalizing marijuana in N.J. as legalization not happening any time soon – NJ.com
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While Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law Tuesday to greatly expand New Jersey’s medical marijuana program, the fate of the state legalizing recreational pot is likely to remain up in the air until November 2020, when voters decide in a ballot referendum.
That has left many critics wondering: Why don’t Garden State leaders decriminalize the drug to stop most weed arrests until then? Under that system, most people caught with marijuana would simply face a fine instead of possible jail time.
So far, Murphy and other leaders have been wary of that idea, fearing it wouldn’t deter drug dealers. But on Tuesday, the governor seemed more open to the concept than he ever has been.
“I haven’t been a fan historically because the drug traffickers continue to run the business,” Murphy, a Democrat, said of decriminalization at a news conference in Freehold before signing the medical pot bill into law. “But at a certain point, I think we have to look at all options.”
“I think we can’t allow a system where 600 people are gonna get arrested this week — 450 or more of color,” Murphy added.
So does that mean decriminalization is an option?
“I’m not gonna say hell no to anything right now,” Murphy said. “We’ve got to do something I’m not a fan of it historically because we leave the business in the hands of the wrong people.”
Murphy and his fellow Democrats who lead the state Legislature tried to muster enough support to pass a bill to legalize recreational weed in New Jersey in March. But they fell short in the state Senate.
In May, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester — New Jersey’s top state lawmaker — announced he was ending efforts to gather votes and that lawmakers would instead ask the state’s voters next November to decide whether to legalize the drug.
A referendum is expected to be successful. Polls show a majority of New Jerseyans support legal weed.
It’s possible — though unlikely — Murphy and lawmakers could work together to pass a bill before then. Murphy said Tuesday that while he’s been “frustrated we haven’t been able to get it over the goal line,” he’d “love to see us take another shot.”
“But I think the worst-case scenario is a referendum in 2020,” the governor said.
“Anybody who thinks status quo is acceptable has not taken time to understand the status quo,” he added.
Police in New Jersey arrest more people for marijuana possession than every state except Texas and New York, FBI arrest data shows. And they arrest black people for pot possession at a rate three time higher than white people, despite similar pot usage rates between the groups, according to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.
State Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Essex, a major opponent of legalizing recreational weed, has been pushing for Murphy and legislative leaders to get on board with decriminalization and other social justice reforms to end discrimination against people of color being caught with pot.
Like Murphy, Sweeney, the state Senate president, has so far been against decriminalization.
Still, Sweeney told NJ Advance Media last week he’s willing to “sit down” with Rice to discuss the issue.
“I’m not there at this point, but I’m willing to listen,” Sweeney said.
State Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, said Tuesday that he’s also all ears.
“I had reservations about it initially,” Coughlin told NJ Advance Media after Murphy’s event. “I was concerned it would ensure the clientele would feel safe doing it. But as we look at the possibility, I think it’s something we could consider.”
NJ Advance Media staff writer Payton Guion contributed to this report.
Brent Johnson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01.
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This article originally appeared here in https://www.nj.com/marijuana/2019/07/murphy-wont-rule-out-decriminalizing-marijuana-in-nj-as-legalization-not-happening-any-time-soon.html