TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey's long road to recreational marijuana decriminalization and legalization hit another speed bump Friday over clarification on underage penalties.
Sen. Nicholas Scutari, a Democrat from Union County, explained to PIX11 News on Friday that Gov. Phil Murphy had wanted what Scutari called "clarifications" on discrepancies in the original law — one that got rid of all penalties for possession of less than six ounces of marijuana, another that made underage (under 21 years old) possession of it a disorderly persons offense, which would carry a penalty of up to six months in jail or a fine of up to $1,000.
"This was a clarification effort pushed by the governor’s office, although we had a previous agreement," Scutari said, citing the governor's promise to sign legislation legalizing recreational marijuana if it was on his desk by Jan. 1.
What would have been a measure that drew a compromise between those two discrepancies (read it here) was shut down, however, over objections from the legislature's Black and Latino caucuses. The bill only went through a committee hearing and won't be put through a vote. Scutari, who has sponsored legalization since at least 2009, took his name off the bill.
"They believe this would start a new type of stop-and-frisk for minors," Scutari said. "They believed this was a big pushback and a big infringement to preventing them having less interactions between young people and police."
The bill to decriminalize and legalize recreational marijuana remains on Gov. Murphy's bill. Scutari urged him to sign it Friday and they would get back to work on it.
"What’s on the governor’s desk is essentially the original bill, which is usually the way we work on things," he said.
When asked if he would seek an override if Murphy sought to veto the original bill, Scutari called for cooler heads to prevail.
"Let’s hope that’s not necessary, if the governor really believes in this bill," he said.
Sen. Tony Bucco, a Morris County Republican, said in a statement that the problems were indicative of a bill that has been rushed from the start.
“I’ve expressed concerns for a long time that the process to legalize marijuana moved way too quickly and was backwards from the beginning," Bucco said. "There are extremely complex criminal, regulatory, social, and tax implications that should have been figured out before a question was placed on the ballot. As a result of this flawed process, we are left with an unnecessary rush to enact reasonable regulations after marijuana has become legal under our constitution."
PIX11 News reached out to Gov. Murphy's office for comment Friday.