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Jersey City Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession; State Still Split On Legalization

LINDEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – More and more New Jersey municipalities are joining the conversation on marijuana legalization.

The state's second-largest city is following New York City and Philadelphia, implementing a decriminalization policy.

As CBS2's Meg Baker reports, there are mixed feelings on the issue. While some municipalities are passing resolutions in opposition, Jersey City is taking a more progressive approach. Decriminalization went into effect there on Thursday.

"We are downgrading all marijuana offenses that come through the city ports of Jersey City to local ordinance violation, which will not add to a criminal record or have any of the other collateral consequences of a misdemeanor conviction," said Jake Hudnut, Jersey City's new chief municipal prosecutor.

Hudnut's recommending a fine of no more than $50 or five hours of community service if marijuana charges are not dismissed. He's on the same page as Gov. Phil Murphy, calling it a social justice issue.

"People of color are three times more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for marijuana possession, even though cross-racial usage of marijuana appears to be the same," he said.

So where do things stand at the state level when it comes to legalizing adult use of marijuana?

"We're close to getting an agreement with the administration and hopefully the Assembly leadership, so we can have hearings and potentially a vote before the end of the summer," said State Sen. Nicholas Scutari.

Scutari is the lead sponsor of the bill. He says legislators are digging into the details before holding public hearings.

"Tax rates, how many dispensaries there will be, how many grow facilities there will be, where they will be located, what's going to be required for these people in order to get a license to either grow, manufacture or sell," he said.

Political expert Jim McQueeny says there may be more going on behind the scenes. Hesitation may be brewing, because the entire Assembly is up for reelection in 2019, he says.

"I think they're really concerned that voters might think they're going pell-mell into this thing and opening up places for distributors to be selling marijuana with Slurpees at Wawa and 7-Eleven," he said.

Scutari says decriminalization keeps drug dealers in business and hopes to firm up wavering support for legalization on both sides of the aisle in the next six weeks.

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