Camden could consider decriminalizing marijuana

New Jersey has a medical marijuana program and a state legislature with active bills toward legalizing recreational cannabis, but activists in Camden are “quietly gathering support for something they hope will be quicker to accomplish — decriminalization at the local level,” reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Camden is taking the initiative. … If we start this process, Newark and Paterson, Passaic, and Trenton may look at us and take a lead as well,” Councilman Angel Fuentes told the Inquirer‘s Jan Hefler.

Those pushing the Camden decriminalization efforts are modeling it off what has happened in Philadelphia. In 2014, Councilman Jim Kenney, now Mayor of Philadelphia, advocated making possession of a small amount of marijuana, 30 grams or less, a $25 fine rather than an arrestable offense. The measure was signed into law in October 2014.

In New Jersey, simple possession can result in a maximum six-month jail term and up to $1,000 in fines.

But, as Hefler writes, “A marijuana arrest can often lead to the loss of a job, future employment opportunities, college scholarships and loans, driving privileges, and housing. It can also result in deportation.”

“Decriminalization can quickly end this injustice, while the debate over legalization continues, said Chris Goldstein, one of the advocates who approached Camden about adopting an ordinance to address this problem and who was involved in helping convince Kenney to push the Philadelphia bill.

“The ordinances downgrade the penalties and acknowledge that the marijuana laws are wrong and are racist,” he said. “People want to see something done even before Christie leaves office, and by doing this in Camden we’re creating a template for other cities in New Jersey to also give it a try,” he said.

Fuentes said in an interview last week that he would like to create an ad hoc committee to look into a municipal decriminalization ordinance.

“Unfortunately a lot of people are being sent to jail for marijuana, even college students, and it becomes a stigma when they apply for a job or loan. … I want to make sure young people have a bright future and this is impeding them from jobs and education,” he said.

Ricardo Rivera, a cannabis activist whose Tuffy’s Fight organization, named after his daughter Tatyana, a 10-year-old medical marijuana patient in New Jersey, has been lobbying Camden City Council to decriminalize.

“18-year-olds are getting locked up, and having their lives forever changed because they had a small amount of marijuana, meanwhile on Wall Street people steal millions and get off with a fine,” Rivera told Elevated Nation on Monday.

Rivera, who lost a sister to opiate addiction, testified at a New Jersey health department advisory meeting several months ago and encouraged opiate addiction be added to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana patients in New Jersey.

Camden County spokesman told the Inquirer there were an average of 223 marijuana arrests per year in the city over the past three years.

The paper wrote that decriminalize resolutions had been considered in Asbury Park and Atlantic City in previous years, but local lawmakers there were unable to find support.

Rivera remains optimistic on Camden.

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