New Jersey's effort to legalize marijuana stalled by disagreement over underage use penalties

TRENTON, N.J. (WCBS 880) — The effort to legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey hit another roadblock on Friday as lawmakers and Gov.
Phil Murphy could not agree on the penalties for underage use.

While New Jersey voters in November 2020 approved legalizing recreational marijuana for those age 21 and older, it was up to lawmakers to determine the punishment for underage use.

The New Jersey Senate was set to vote on a bill Monday that included such penalties, but the vote was canceled Friday afternoon after a number of senators said they opposed it.

"Although I felt that the bill that we had passed already was perfectly fine when they had asked for additional changes – some of which were hyper-technical and absolutely not necessary – and then, of course, there was the bigger thing when it came to minors,” explains New Jersey State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, chief sponsor of the original legislation to legalize weed.

According to an NJ.com report, Gov. Murphy has “declined to sign bills passed last month to legalize and decriminalize weed without changes that enact penalties for those under 21 caught with marijuana.”

The governor said there were inconsistencies in the two bills that have passed through the Legislature and he wanted what’s called a “clean up” bill, which Scutari initially sponsored, adding fines for 18- to 20-year-olds who are caught with the drug.

Though, that bill was widely unpopular among legislators in minority communities, who believe this could result in more policing of Black and Hispanic minors.

“They believe that this isn't good for the communities and that's what I'm going to go with,” Scutari said.

The bill was promptly withdrawn Friday over concerns it would lead to more young minorities being arrested.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: David McNew/Getty Images