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You would be able to possess up to 6 ounces of weed in N.J. under decriminalization bill

Lawmakers will take up a bill Monday that would decriminalize possession of marijuana and the distribution of a small amount after voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum to legalize marijuana.

Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, said the bill (S2535) has been amended to decriminalize possession of up to six ounces of marijuana and distribution of one ounce. The legislation, introduced in June, initially decriminalized possession of a pound of marijuana, but did not address distribution.

The past bill also mandated those in possession of marijuana would receive a written warning first, and then $25 fines for subsequent offenses. Under the latest version, it would be legal to have up to six ounces of weed without any penalty.

“To make sure we did something that is long overdue, we shifted the weights,” she said Friday. “I am very proud of the work that we have accomplished in this bill from a social justice lens.”

Distribution of up to one ounce would still result in a small fine for a first offense. Subsequent incidents would be fourth degree offenses.

Election night brought a victory to advocates with the passing of the ballot question, but did not put an end to arrests or make the sale of marijuana immediately legal.

Lawmakers must now pass a law outlining rules and regulations for the industry.

But without a decriminalization bill, people could be arrested between now and the passage of enabling legislation. The legislation based on the ballot question will only make marijuana legal for those 21 and over, and younger people could still face arrest without a decriminalization provision.

Ruiz said she has been disappointed in the delays to vote on her bill. Sen. Nick Scutari, D-Union said he did not post the bill for a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, fearing it would jeopardize the campaign to pass the ballot question.

But he has promised to move quickly on both implementing legislation and decriminalization. Lawmakers have scheduled a hearing on the decriminalization bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee for 10 a.m. Monday.

In the meantime, police continue arrests. Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued a statement this week calling on police and prosecutors to use their discretion when dealing with marijuana-related offenses, but stopped short of issuing a directive to end them.

At six ounces, the bill remains one of the most progressive of its kind. New York City and Philadelphia have decriminalized just two ounces and one ounce, respectively.

Ruiz said she plans to continue to build racial and social justice reforms into ongoing marijuana legislation. Next week, she plans to introduce a bill that would direct some tax revenue generated from legal marijuana sales to schools in communities that have been ravaged by the drug war.

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