Uncertainty, once again, looms over New Jersey's weed legalization bill.
According to the New Jersey Globe, multiple lawmakers pulled their names from a so-called "cleanup bill" that was approved by the Senate Judiciary and Assembly Appropriations Committees on Thursday. The bill was seen as a compromise between the state legislature and Gov. Phil Murphy, who indicated he would not sign the bill into law unless it included penalties for underage marijuana use.
The Black and Latino legislative caucuses criticized the legislation, arguing it could lead to more police interactions for brown and Black youth. State Sen. Teresa Ruiz and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari agreed with the concerns and removed their names from the bill, meaning its scheduled vote for Monday will likely be delayed.
"I could never lend my name to something that could potentially have unintended consequence that could send more Black and brown juveniles into a system that will handcuff them for the rest of their lives," Ruiz said Friday, as reported by the Globe. She went on to say that rather than renegotiate, she'd prefer if Murphy would sign the decriminalization and legalization bills that was sent to his desk back in December.
"Every single day that bill doesn’t get signed, people are getting a jacket, a title, a scarlet letter and getting picked up into precisely what we’re trying to prevent — keeping people from getting caught up into the criminal justice system," Ruiz added.
According to the outlet, Murphy has said he wants to sign the legalization and decriminalization bills at the same time, suggesting neither will be signed into law until lawmakers send him a bill that met his demands.
The cleanup bill seeks to impose fines of $250 for those between the ages of 18 and 20 caught with less than an ounce of marijuana, and fines of $100 to $500 for individuals who are caught with more. The bill, which was approved by New Jersey voters in November, states only residents who are 21 and over can legally purchase recreational marijuana from a regulated dispensary.
"It becomes a stop-and-frisk bill if you really look at the language when they talk about curbside and stationhouse adjustments," Sen. Ronald Rice told the Globe. "We’re right back where we started with some fancy modern day words ... I believe the legislature is being held hostage on this one by the governor. I’m very supportive of the governor. I was there when he first ran before people even got on board, and I will continue to support him — but when he’s wrong, he’s wrong."