Garden State pot smokers have a reason to rejoice, at least temporarily: New Jersey legislators voted on Monday to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Governor Chris Christie (R), however, has vowed to veto the legislation.
The New Jersey Assembly voted 44-30 to approve a measure (A1465) that would make possession of 15 grams of marijuana or less a minor civil offense similar to a parking ticket. Fines would range from $150 to $500, with mandatory drug education classes for repeat offenders. The current fine for marijuana possession is $1,000 and violators face up to six months in jail.
Even if the bill passes the state senate, Christie's veto threat ensures it's unlikely to become law. "The federal government still says marijuana is an illegal drug," Christie said to a town hall on Friday. "I don’t think we should send any sort tacit approval to our children that somehow this is not bad anymore."
He's not the only opponent of the bill. New Jersey Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini (R-Monmouth County) on Tuesday released a statement condemning the decriminalization of marijuana, Marlboro Patch reported.
“Marijuana is an addictive gateway drug that affects the brain, can lead to anxiety and depression, and harms the heart and lungs," Angelini said in her statement. “Decriminalizing this dangerous substance sends the wrong message to children and tells them that their physical health, mental well-being and daily work and social functions don’t matter."
Angelini has been a crusader against the liberalization of marijuana drug laws. She is the head of a non-profit, Prevention First, that works against substance abuse and opposed 2010 legislation legalizing the use of medical marijuana in New Jersey.
“When Governor Corzine and this Legislature approved a medical marijuana law in 2010, I said it was the first step toward legalizing marijuana. I did not know the next leap would happen this quickly," she said.
Despite the bill's dim prospects, there's ample evidence that public opinion on marijuana legalization is shifting nationally. Last month, a Rasmussen poll found 56 percent of Americans approve of legalizing marijuana and having it regulated like tobacco and alcohol.