Pot Fiasco

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney and LD22 Senator Nicholas Scutari

Marijuana became legal in New Jersey when voters endorsed it last November.

Actually, it didn’t.

O.K. But it certainly became legal on Jan. 1 when the year changed.

Nope, that didn’t happen either.

Now it’s mid-February – more than three months after the election and six weeks into 2021 – and pot is still illegal.

Pot arrests are still being made, but most are not being prosecuted.

None of this makes any sense.

The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled today to somewhat clarify the issue, but guess what – the discussion was put off until Wednesday by Nicholas Scutari, the committee chair.

There was even talk of the Legislature ending the confusion once and for all on Thursday. But wait. Weather may be bad on Thursday; so the session may be put off until Friday.

And yes, pot arrests, presumably, will continue to be made between now and then, or perhaps, now and whenever.

But again – there will be no prosecutions.

Many people like to make fun of the inability of government to get things done. They have to be having a field day with this one.

Let’s not forget the simple facts. Voters approved legalizing recreational pot by a wide margin and Democrats, who put the question on the ballot, control the state.

So, what gives?

The problem has to do with penalties, which is somewhat ironic because the whole idea of the question was to eliminate penalties.

But here’s the dilemma. The referendum legalized marijuana for adults – those over 21.

So what happens if a 19-year-old gets caught with pot?

Or a 17-year-old?

They’re different, you know. The 19-year-old is legally an adult – even if he’s not an adult for marijuana purposes. The 17-year-old, being under 18, is not an adult.

This may seem like something other than an insurmountable problem. But you need to remember that one of the selling points of legalizing pot was not just to allow people to smoke weed with impunity. It was to reduce the risk of young people, especially minorities, getting caught up in the criminal justice system.

The overall point is a logical belief that a bunch of 19-year-olds smoking pot in the backyard of a suburban home are far less likely to be busted than a group of black or Hispanic kids indulging on the street corner in Newark or Paterson.

This seems to have set up a square the circle routine. How do you penalize young pot users without penalizing them?

The Assembly solution is to fine them from $50 to $100 depending on the amount of pot involved. The Senate bill has only a $50 fine.

As for those under 18, they will be given two warnings. If it happens a third time, they will face the same $50 fine or community service.

So, youthful offenders will still be arrested, right?

Maybe.

The Senate bill, for example, says quite clearly that a person under the legal age caught with marijuana “would not be subject to arrest, and would not be subject to detention or otherwise be taken into custody by a law enforcement officer except to the extent required to issue a written warning,” or provide notice of a violation.

What this seems to suggest is that a 20-year-old caught with weed will be told he will face a $50 fine, but he won’t be officially arrested.

Got it?

It’s understood that debate and compromise are needed to get things done, but reasonable people can wonder why these problems were not addressed last year – like before voters were asked to approve legalization.

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