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Three Bergen Legislators Back Reduced Penalties For Small Amounts of Pot

Posted by NORML NJ on Friday, July 22, 2011

Read an excerpt below from the Franklin Lakes Patch

A trio of Bergen County legislators have thrown their support behind a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Assembly members Charlotte Vandervalk (R-Westwood), Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood) and Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood) have signed on as co-sponsors to a bill that would reduce the penalty for possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana to a fine, coupled with a drug education program for repeat offenders.

Vandervalk, who supports the use of medical marijuana, said the current penalties people face for possession of small amounts of marijuana are too harsh. Currently, possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana is a disorderly persons offense, which can draw up to a $1,000 fine and 6 months in prison.

“You don’t want to ruin someone’s entire life with years in jail for something that is a minor offense,” Vandervalk said.

This bill, authored by Mercer County Democrat Reed Gusciora, would reduce the penalty to a $150 fine, with higher fines for subsequent offenses.

In addition to reducing the burden on offenders, Gordon Johnson said he supported the bill because it would lighten the load for police departments and courts. Johnson said authorities used too much time and resources on minor marijuana infractions that should be used for more serious offenses.

Frederic DiMaria, a criminal defense attorney who practices out of Lodi and spends much of his time defending marijuana users, said “there is tremendous time wasted by our judicial system” on marijuana prosecutions. DiMaria is chairman of the New Jersey chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijauna Laws, which advocates the legalization of marijuana.

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