Lawmakers advance bills to decriminalize marijuana, expand medical cannabis

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New Jersey lawmakers on Monday advanced a series of bills surrounding marijuana in the state.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee approved bills that would virtually decriminalize personal use of marijuana in New Jersey, pave the road for expungement, and expand the medical cannabis program.

The vote comes after a lengthy effort to legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey failed earlier this year. The question about legalized recreational use is expected to appear on the 2020 ballot.

Under the decriminalization bill, possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana would be a $50 mine. Possession of between 2 ounces and 1 pound would be a disorderly persons offense.

RELATED: O’Scanlon: New Jersey’s medical marijuana program needs expanding 
RELATED: Group rallies in support of marijuana legalization on 4/20 

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka was in Trenton Monday to testify in favor of municipal land banks. But he also made sure to throw his support behind the decriminalization and expungement bills. But he says that the bills do not go far enough.

“People will still be able to be pulled over from the smell of marijuana in a car, which leads to other things, so as long as there's not legalization there's still some issues that can affect our communities,” Baraka says.

Republican Assemblyman Hal Wirths says that he reluctantly voted against the decriminalization and expungement bills.

“I think they went too far with the amount of legal drugs you're allowed to be caught with and get your record expunged,” Wirth says.

Wirth says that he is in favor of the medical marijuana program and voted for those bills. He says that the issues of the medical program should be separate from the legal fight surrounding marijuana.

“I actually pushed the Democrats very hard to separate those bills. I thought it was outrageous they were combined and trying to force those legislators who do support the medical marijuana to also vote for the recreational part,” he says.

Senate President Steve Sweeney has said that he opposes decriminalization, so the future of the bill remains uncertain.

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