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Marijuana In New Jersey: Holdup On Legalization Centers On Dispute Over Minors' Possession Penalties

TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- Eleven days into the new year, Gov. Phil Murphy has yet to be able to sign legislation officially legalizing adult use marijuana and decriminalizing it.

As CBS2's Meg Baker reported Monday, the holdup seems to be with what is being called a "cleanup bill."

"He's holding it hostage for this one particular piece," Assemblyman Jamel Holley said.

The holdup relates to penalties for minors. Should marijuana possession be treated like alcohol, a criminal offense, or like cigarettes, a civil ticketed offense.

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State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, the leading sponsor of the regulation and decriminalization bills, pulled his name from a cleanup bill, stopping the vote and saying it could potentially have unintended consequences and send more Black and brown juveniles into the criminal system.

"Many of the legislators of the Black Caucus and the Latino Caucus feel that the penalties in the ... in the clarification bill are too harsh," Scutari said.

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Lawmakers object to measures that would levy fines up to $250 for possession of 6 ounces or less of marijuana or up to $500 for more than that on persons 18-20, and would limit police to "curbside warnings" and "station house adjustments" when interacting with minors found in possession.

"If you look at the statistics from the FBI data, minorities are three to four times likely to be arrested than our counterparts," Holley said.

Murphy said he is optimistic they can figure something out.

"Number one, the last thing we need is more young kids getting tangled up in the criminal justice system," Murphy said, "and secondly, I'd say with equal passion, this was never about legalizing marijuana for our kids. That was never what this was about. That's not what voters voted on in the referendum."

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Marijuana industry expert Mike McQueeny says decriminalization isn't just about stopping people from being put in jail.

"Another part of it is limiting the interactions between police and certainly communities of color. How do we make it such that this isn't just another excuse to stop individuals in some of these most harmed communities?" McQueeny said.

Murphy said he will work with legislators to thread the needle between deterrence for minors and social justice.

CBS2's Meg Baker contributed to this report


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