Monmouth County Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini (R) thinks the debate to decriminalize marijuana should land on the side of the current law.
A bill was introduced by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) in May and passed by the assembly on Monday. It calls for the decriminalization of the possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana, imposes civil penalties, and establishes a fund for drug education.
The bill downgrades possession 15 grams or less of marijuana from a criminal offense to an offense carrying a civil fine only. The bill states that there would be a $150 fine for a first violation, a $200 fine for a second violation, and a $500 fine for a third or subsequent violation, except in cases of "extreme financial hardship."
The bill, labeled A-1465, also specifies that "a person who possesses drug paraphernalia for the personal use of 15 grams or less of marijuana would not be guilty of a criminal violation but instead would be subject to a $100 civil penalty."
Angelini said in a news release that decriminalizing marijuana in any way would send the wrong message to children in New Jersey.
“When Governor Corzine and this Legislature approved a medical marijuana law in 2010, I said it was the first step toward legalizing marijuana," Angelini said. "I did not know the next leap would happen this quickly."
Monmouth County Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon and Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande are on board with the bill as its co-sponsors.
But Angelini said it is a step in the wrong direction.
“Two years ago, the message to children was that marijuana, the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, can be medicine for some. Today, the Assembly expanded upon that message, saying it’s OK to smoke it," she said.
O'Scanlon introduced amendments to the bill on the floor in May, including forwarding $50 to a Drug Education Fund in each municipality and the authorization of each court to order drug assessment of adults who have committed three or more offenses, to determine whether or not they would benefit from drug treatment.
“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. “There is a reason this controlled dangerous substance is illegal under state and federal law and should stay that way.”
Angelini is the executive director of Prevention First of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, an substance abuse education program.
A separate bill, introduced to the Senate by Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-Middlesex, Somerset, Union) just days after the assembly bill in May, calls for the decriminilization of the possession of 50 grams or less of marijuana. No amendments or floor discussions have been publicized for that bill yet.