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Decriminalizing Marijuana Takes Another Step [AUDIO]

Possessing small amounts of marijuana would no longer be a criminal offense, under a measure approved by the full New Jersey Assembly on Monday.

The bipartisan legislation would decriminalize the possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana. An offender would be subject to a $150 fine for the first violation, a $200 fine for a second violation, and a $500 fine for the third or subsequent offenses. Currently, possession of small amounts could still turn in to jail time and a loss of license.

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (NJ Assembly Democrats)

“We shouldn’t be making criminals out of a person smoking a joint in the park,” said Assembly Democrat Reed Gusciora, a sponsor of the measure.

He said shifting the violation into a civil offense could make it much easier on offenders who have job searches and loan applications later in life.

“Offenders won’t have this show up on a criminal case history,” Gusciora explained.

Under the bill, a drug education program would be required for anyone under 21 who is caught with marijuana three times. Adults with a third or subsequent offense could be assessed to determine whether they would benefit from drug treatment.

A “Drug Education Program Fund” would be established by the bill, and it would be partially funded through $50 from each fine paid.

Also, anyone found in possession of drug paraphernalia for the personal use of 15 grams of pot or less would no longer be committing a criminal offense. A $100 civil penalty would be imposed.

Fourteen other states have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, including New York and Connecticut.

Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

The measure was approved by a vote 44-30-0. Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini (R) was among those who voted against the bill.

“Decriminalizing this dangerous substance sends the wrong message to children and tells them that their physical health, mental well-being and daily work and social functions don’t matter,” Angelini said.

Gusciora said his measure falls in line with Governor Chris Christie’s efforts to keep non-violent drug offenders out of prison. However, Christie told a crowd at Friday’s town hall that he would veto legislation that decriminalizes marijuana.

The state Senate has not yet considered the legislation.

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