Stirring the Pot Debate: Ocean County Weighs In On Legalizing Marijuana

To legalize or not to legalize? That is the question.

New Jersey’s new Governor, Phil Murphy, made marijuana legalization a key part of his campaign platform. The benefits are threefold. Legalizing marijuana allows law enforcement to divert resources away from low-level offenses and focus on other more-serious drug offenses, while adding to the State’s coffers with new (and much-needed) tax revenue from a legal pot industry. Also, legalizing marijuana serves a social justice function. Up to this point, studies show that African-American people are significantly more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than white people, even though use rates between both classes are roughly the same.

Experience with other states that have legalized marijuana seems to bear out those benefits. However, many legislators on the State and local level in New Jersey are not so quick to warm to the idea of making recreational use of marijuana legal in the Garden State.

Ocean County has been at the forefront of the debate. That is, in large part, because Ocean County is the home to many of our tourist-attracting beaches. The fear with legalized marijuana is that family tourists will be dissuaded from coming to the Jersey Shore, and will be replaced with tourists of a different kind – people from neighboring states who want to purchase pot legally. Toms River in Ocean County is one example of a municipality taking a stand.

Toms River’s Local Challenge to the Prospect of Legal Weed

From the moment Governor Phil Murphy was elected, efforts began to prospectively undermine legalized marijuana in New Jersey. One prominent example is a Toms River ordinance introduced by the town council that sought to ban recreational pot sales.

Although any local ordinance would be superseded by State legislation, those councilmembers who introduced the ordinance believe that recreational marijuana would be a “potential nuisance” and that the town does not need the revenue that may come from legal sales of marijuana.

Opponents to the ordinance believe that the move is premature and ill-informed. Indeed, opponents to the measure won a small victory when the council tabled the ordinance this week, on February 13, 2018.

State Legislators, Including Ocean County’s Senator Robert Singer, Call for “Decriminalization”

Another angle that has emerged since legalized marijuana has come to the New Jersey debating table is a slower approach to legalization – decriminalization. State Senators Rice (Essex County) and Singer (Ocean County) are currently advocating for a decriminalization approach. Rather than rush to full legalization, Senators Rice and Singer introduced a bill this week that would treat possession of small amounts of pot as a traffic offense, not a criminal offense.

The proposed bill, Rice and Singer argue, would address the social justice issue with pot by removing any threat of jail time. Moreover, the bill will slow down the push to legalization. Rice and Singer state that legalization for the purpose of tax revenue is not a good bargain. There does not appear to be an appetite for the decriminalization approach at this point. Yet, as the legalization debate continues, it may play a part as a half-measure alternative.

(Non-Medical) Marijuana Possession Is Still Illegal In The Garden State

As the debate on legalization heats up, you should be advised that possession of marijuana remains illegal for the time being. New Jersey statute N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(3) and (a)(4) makes it unlawful to possess marijuana, if it is not prescribed for medical purposes. The seriousness of the offense depends on the amount.

Possession of more than 50 grams of marijuana is a fourth-degree offense, which carries a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

Possession of 50 grams or less of marijuana is a disorderly persons offense, which carries a sentence of up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

A conviction for either level offense above also subjects you a 6-month suspension of your driver’s license.

Ocean County Marijuana Attorneys Can Help You Get Your Case Dismissed

Even though the marijuana debate seems to put the State in limbo on the issue, the current law makes non-medical marijuana possession illegal. If you have been charged with marijuana possession, you need an attorney with a long history of representing people in marijuana cases.

We at The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall have, collectively, over 100 years of experience representing clients in all types of drug matters, including marijuana possession. We will advise you on the best course of action in your case, and we can be sure to take advantage of the current debate on legalization as a way in which to minimize or dismiss the charges against you. We are available 24/7 to speak with you about your case. We also offer a free initial consultation. Call us today at 732-286-6500.

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