- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 27, 2019

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy pushed Tuesday for the state to swiftly decriminalize marijuana possession in light of a vote on legalization likely nearly a year away.

Mr. Murphy, a Democrat who supports legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and allowing retail sales, argued that the Garden State should loosen its existing pot laws ahead of voters deciding on more drastic measures next fall.

“Decriminalization of adult-use marijuana cannot be our long-term solution, but we now must turn to it for critical short-term relief while we await a ballot measure on legalization next November. Maintaining a status quo that sees roughly 600 individuals, disproportionately people of color, arrested in New Jersey every week for low-level drug offenses is wholly unacceptable,” Mr. Murphy said in a statement.

Mr. Murphy campaigned on legalizing marijuana prior to being sworn in as governor in early 2018, but fellow Democrats in control of the New Jersey state Senate and General Assembly have been unable in the interim to agree on legislation that would accomplish his goal.

His statement did not elaborate on how specifically marijuana could be decriminalized, but measures passed in other states have allowed individuals caught with pot to avoid arrest.

“I look forward to working with Senate and Assembly leadership, as well as members of the New Jersey Legislative Black and Latino Caucuses, to pass sensible decriminalization legislation as soon as possible,” Mr. Murphy said in the statement.

“Although I remain disappointed in the Legislature’s inability to legislatively legalize adult-use marijuana, I am optimistic that the people of New Jersey, who overwhelmingly support legalization, will vote to do so. And, when they do, we will take a critical and long overdue step for real criminal justice reform,” Mr. Murphy added.

New Jersey state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat who has been skeptical of decriminalizing but not legalizing marijuana, said he remains “open to looking at” the governor’s proposal, NY Advance Media reported.

“My largest concern is that we just make the black market that much stronger,” Mr. Sweeney reportedly told the outlet. “But I’m open to doing something because it’s gonna be a year before we get this done. We’ve got to figure something out.”

Marijuana is classified as a Scheduled 1 drug under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, but most states in the country have passed laws legalizing to different degrees.

Thirty-three states, including New Jersey, have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana despite the plant being considered a federally prohibited controlled substance.

Eleven of those states have passed laws legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. Of those, seven currently have systems in place permitting state-licensed dispensaries to sell commercial pot to adult customers. Michigan is slated to become the eighth next month.

About two-thirds of Americans support legalizing marijuana, Gallup and the Pew Research Center separately reported recently.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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