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New Jersey

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director September 23, 2013

    Republican Gov. Chris Christie has signed legislation, Senate Bill 2842, into law modifying aspects of the state’s medical marijuana regulations.

    Specifically, the law amends requirements that state-licensed medical cannabis producers and distributors be limited to providing patients with no more than three strains of the plant – a regulatory rule that has been in place since the program’s inception some three years ago. Proponents of the rule change argued that lifting the three-strain cap will foster the production and distribution of varieties of cannabis high in CBD (cannabidiol) content. Cannabidiol is a non-psychotropic cannabinoid that possesses a variety of therapeutic properties. However, it is typically present at relatively low levels in conventional strains of marijuana, which typically are bred to possess higher quantities of THC – the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

    Senate Bill 2842 also allows for cannabis distributors to produce marijuana-infused edible products. However, at the insistence of the Governor, consumption of such products will be limited to those age 18 and younger.

    Governor Christie previously vetoed language that sought to streamline regulations so that qualified patients under the age of 18 could more readily access medicinal cannabis.

    Under present New Jersey law, authorized patients may only obtain medical cannabis from state-licensed dispensaries. To date, however, few facilities are actively up and running. Earlier this month, the state’s Economic Developmental Authority approved a $375,000 loan to the Compassionate Care Foundation dispensary, which plans to open its doors in mid-October.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 22, 2013

    Legislative chambers in four states — Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, and New Jersey — have passed measures to reclassify minor marijuana offenses as non-criminal violations, punishable by a fine only — no arrest, no jail, and no criminal record.

    In Hawaii, Senate lawmakers this month unanimously passed Senate Bill 472, which reclassifies marijuana possession offenses from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine) to an infraction. On Thursday, March 14, members of the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of a revised version of this proposal (SB 472, HD1). This revised version caps fine-only penalties at no more than $100 for violations by those age 18 or older involving 20 grams or less of cannabis. Senate Bill 472 now before the House Finance Committee, where it has yet to be scheduled for a hearing. If passed by the House Finance Committee, the measure would still need to be voted by the full House and then it would return to the Senate before going to the Governor’s desk. You can read NORML’s testimony in support of this measure here. Hawaii voters who wish to learn more about this effort can visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here or visit the ACLU of Hawaii here.

    Maryland lawmakers this week passed Senate Bill 297 by a vote of 30 to 16. The bill now goes before House lawmakers for further consideration. This is the first time in recent memory that a chamber of the Maryland legislature has voted to significantly reduce penalties for the non-medical use of cannabis. Presently, the possession of ten grams of cannabis or less is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, publishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine. Senate Bill 297 makes minor marijuana offenses a fine-only, non-criminal infraction, punishable by a maximum fine of $100. Members of the House Judiciary Committee will hear SB 297 on Thursday, March 28, at 1pm. NORML will be testifying at this hearing. Maryland residents are urged to get involved in supporting SB 297 by clicking here.

    Yesterday, New Hampshire House members voted 214 to 115 in favor of amended legislation, House Bill 621, that decriminalizes minor marijuana possession offenses. Under present law, the possession of any amount of cannabis is classified as a criminal misdemeanor publishable by up to one-year in jail and a $2,000 fine. This proposal seeks to make minor marijuana offenses (up to one-quarter of one ounce) a fine-only, non-criminal infraction. The vote marks the fourth time in five years that House lawmakers have approved decriminalizing cannabis. More than 50 additional House lawmakers approved the measure this year as opposed to last year. Nevertheless, this measure is anticipated to face resistance in the Senate as well as from newly elected Gov. Maggie Hassan. If you reside in New Hampshire, you can take action in support of HB 621 here.

    Assembly Bill 1465, which reduces penalties for the adult possession of up to 15 grams or less of marijuana to a fine-only, non-criminal violation was approved last year by the New Jersey Assembly and awaits action by the Senate. Separate Senate Legislation, Senate Bill 1977, to decriminalize up to 50 grams of marijuana also remains pending. Under present state law, the possessing of up to 50 grams marijuana is punishable by up to 6 months incarceration, a $1,000 fine, and a criminal record. According to survey data compiled in 2011 by Rutgers University, a majority of New Jersey voters support reforming the state’s criminal marijuana laws. Pollsters found that 6 out of 10 voters favored removing criminal penalties for first-time marijuana possession offenders and replacing them with the imposition of a civil fine. Just over half thought there should be no penalties at all. More information about these measures is available here.

    To date, fifteen states have reduced marijuana possession to a fine-only offense. In nine of these states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island (beginning April 1, 2013) — the law defines the private, non-medical possession of marijuana by adults as a civil, non-criminal offense. Five additional states — Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio — treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense. Alaska imposes no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana, while Colorado and Washington recently imposed separate legislation legalizing the private possession of marijuana.

    Several additional states, including Missouri and Vermont, are considering similar decriminalization measures. Nearly a dozen states are also considering legislation to legalize the adult consumption of marijuana and regulate its retail production and sale. A summary of state-by-state pending marijuana law reform measures is available from NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 30, 2012

    On Tuesday, separate legislative committees in the Rhode Island House and Senate approved measures to significantly reduce the state’s criminal marijuana possession penalties.

    House Bill 7092 and its companion legislation, Senate Bill 2253, amend state law so that the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by an individual 18 or older is reduced from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by one year in jail and a $500 maximum fine) to a non-arrestable civil offense, punishable by a $150 fine, no jail time, and no criminal record. You can read NORML’s testimony in favor of the measures here.

    According to a recent statewide poll, commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project, 65 percent of Rhode Island’s residents are in favor of decriminalization. In recent years, neighboring Connecticut (in 2011) and Massachusetts (in 2009, via a voter-approved initiative) have enacted similar decriminalization laws.

    Rhode Island lawmakers have a long history of supporting medical marijuana law reform legislation. However, yesterday’s vote marks one of the first times in recent memory that lawmakers have taken action to amend the state’s marijuana penalties for non-patients.

    The decriminalization measures now await floor votes in their respective chambers. These votes could come as early as this week. Therefore, if you reside in the Ocean State, it is vital that your elected officials hear from you. You can contact your state elected officials directly via NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.

    Similar decriminalization legislation is also pending in New Jersey, where the full Assembly is expected to vote on the measure imminently. Further information on this effort is available here.

    Presently, in eight states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, and Oregon — the private, non-medical possession of marijuana by an adult is defined under the law as a civil, non-criminal offense.

    Five additional states — Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio — treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense. Alaska law imposes no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults.

    In all other states, marijuana possession for personal use remains a criminal offense — punishable by an arrest, potential incarceration, and a criminal record.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 21, 2012

    [Update: The full Assembly is now scheduled to vote on A. 1465 this THURSDAY, MAY 24. For the first time in many years, there is now political momentum in New Jersey to mitigate marijuana possession penalties. If you reside in New Jersey, your member of the Assembly needs to hear from you NOW. Contact your state lawmakers via NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.]

    Members of the state Assembly Judiciary Committee voted unanimously today in favor of Assembly Bill 1465, bi-partisan legislation which reduces criminal penalties for those who possess personal use quantities of marijuana.

    Witnesses who testified at the hearing were almost uniformly in favor of the legislation, which is similar to the laws of 14 other states. You can read NORML’s written testimony to the Committee here.

    Assembly Bill 1465 removes criminal penalties for the possession of up to 15 grams (approximately one-half ounce) of marijuana, replacing them with civil penalties punishable by no more than a $150 fine and no criminal record. Under present law, the possession of minor amounts of marijuana is a criminal offense punishable by up to six-months in prison and a $1,000 fine.

    Last year, Connecticut NORML spearheaded a successful legislative effort in that state to pass a nearly identical marijuana decriminalization bill. Passage of that measure has since led to a dramatic decline in the total number of marijuana arrests.

    In 2009 (the most recent year for which data is available), 22,439 New Jersey citizens were arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Passage of A. 1465 measure would spare many of these citizens from criminal arrest, prosecution, and incarceration, as well as the emotional and financial hardships that follow — including the loss of certain jobs, students loans, federal and state subsidies, and child custody rights. Further, this change would provide immediate legal protections for some New Jersey patients, who presently benefit from the therapeutic use of cannabis, but remain at risk because the state’s two-and-a-half year-old medical marijuana law remains inactive.

    A. 1465 is now pending before the full Assembly. Separate Senate legislation to decriminalize cannabis possession has not yet been scheduled for a hearing. For decriminalization to become reality in New Jersey, the measure must pass both the Assembly and the Senate. The measure would then await action from Gov. Chris Christie.

    If you reside in the Garden State, you are urged to please contact your member of the state Assembly and urge them to vote ‘yes’ on A. 1465 by visiting NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.

    Additional information is available from NORML New Jersey here or via CMM-NJ here.

  • by Allen St. Pierre, Former NORML Executive Director April 18, 2012

    Supreme Court Authorizes Strip Searches for Any Criminal Offense

    By Kellen Russoniello, George Washington University Law School and  NORML legal intern

    If you are sent to jail, be prepared to get naked, squat, and cough.

    In Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders, a 5-4 decision drawn on party lines released on April 2, the Supreme Court upheld the practice of forcing detainees who would be entering the general jail population to undergo strip searches. The Court noted that they “must defer to the judgment of correctional officials unless the record contains substantial evidence showing their policies are an unnecessary or un-justified response to problems of jail security.” Despite the dissent’s assertions that the massive affront to human dignity that strip searches cause is not outweighed by the scant evidence that these procedures actually produce discovery of more contraband, the Court ruled that jails can force detainees to undergo an extremely close inspection while unclothed.

    The rationale for the decision is that corrections officers should have deference to deal with the serious problems faced by admitted new people to the general jail population. These dangers include: introducing contagious diseases or lice; the possibility that the detainee may have open wounds; the fact that a detainee may have gang tattoos, which could lead to violence within the jail; or the chance that the person may be carrying contraband (weapons or drugs) in places that are not visible from a general visual search. Additionally, jails are often more dangerous than prisons because little is known about the admitted offender.

    As if the breadth of the ruling was not striking enough, the case becomes more shocking when the facts are recounted. The case arose from the 2005 arrest of Albert Florence, a middle-aged African-American man. When Florence’s wife was pulled over for speeding, a records search revealed that Florence, who was in the passenger’s seat, had an outstanding warrant for failure to appear at an enforcement hearing as a result of unpaid fines from two years prior. In fact, the fine had been paid a few days after the issuance of the warrant, but the warrant was never taking off the system.

    Additionally, anticipating potential confusion and/or conflict with police during any future traffic stop or like encounter, Florence presented photocopies to arresting police of the paid receipts. To no avail, he was arrested on the spot.

    Florence was held for six days in Burlington County jail and then transferred to Essex County jail where he was held for an additional day. At each facility, detention officers forced Florence to strip naked while they examined him for tattoos, scars, and contraband. In the second jail, Florence had to lift his genitals, turnaround, squat, and then cough. After his release, Florence sued the government under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Rights.

    This ruling built on precedent set in Bell v. Wolfish, which held that prisoners detained in any correctional facility run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons could be forced to undergo a strip search after every contact visit with a person from outside the facility. Additionally, the Court cites favorably the decision of Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, which held that a person can be arrested and held in detention no matter how minor the criminal offense is (in that case, a woman was arrested for not wearing her seatbelt). Taken together, this means that a person can be detained for any criminal offense, and therefore forced to undergo a strip search for any criminal offense.

    Justice Breyer in dissent points out the absurdity of this approach. Under this ruling, minor offenses such as driving with a noisy muffler, failing to use a turn signal, riding a bicycle without an audible bell, or walking your dog without a leash, could subject the arrestee to a strip search.

    Breyer also notes that other procedures used by jails, including the jails in which Florence was detained, have not shown to be any less effective in finding contraband, gang tattoos, or removing lice than the strip search procedure. For example, both jails performed pat-down searches, made detainees go through metal detectors, made inmates shower with de-lousing shampoo, and searched the inmate’s clothing.

    Furthermore, a New York Times article summarizes the trend that states have taken so far regarding strip searches for newly admitted persons to jails:

    The procedures endorsed by the majority are forbidden by statute in at least 10 states and are at odds with the policies of federal authorities. According to a supporting brief filed by the American Bar Association, international human rights treaties also ban the procedures . . . . Monday’s decision endorsed a recent trend, from appeals courts in Atlanta, San Francisco and Philadelphia, allowing strip-searches of everyone admitted to a jail’s general population. At least seven other appeals courts, on the other hand, had ruled that such searches were proper only if there was a reasonable suspicion that the arrested person had contraband.

    Although Justice Breyer argues that people who commit minor offenses should not be subject to strip searches unless there is reasonable suspicion to believe that they possess drugs or other contraband, he agrees that all people detained for drug offenses can be forced to undergo one.  As you may know, there were over 850,000 arrests made in 2010 for marijuana offenses alone. Although not all of these result in jail time, a significant proportion does, meaning that non-violent marijuana users could be subjected to strip searches. Even in states that have decriminalized to a certain extent, people could still be sent to jail while it is determined whether or not charges will be brought against them. The Court specifically pointed to this possibility in both this ruling and the Atwater case.

    As Justice Kennedy points out in his majority opinion, 13 million people are jailed annually.  This means that 4% of Americans could be subject to these humiliating procedures under this ruling every year. Pointedly, for cannabis consumers and patients, with 850,000 cannabis-related arrests annually in America–90% for possession only–many hundreds of thousands can now be readily exposed to multiple strip searches emanating from a single encounter with law enforcement that begin over an adult possessing no more than a single joint.

    Perhaps it is time to try and stop people, instead of contraband, from entering jails.

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