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N.J. Bill to Lessen Jail Time For ‘Magic’ Mushrooms Moves Forward SPONSOR: Thoughtful Brands $TBI $ $GBLX $PFE $ $ $ $ $ $

Posted by AGORACOM at 1:30 PM on Friday, December 11th, 2020

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Lawmakers took a step Monday to reduce penalties for possession of magic mushrooms, a criminal justice reform move that also brings them closer to passing a bill to guide the marijuana industry in New Jersey.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee voted 4-1 with one abstention to advance the bill (A5084). It does not decriminalize psilocybin, but makes possession of up to one ounce a disorderly persons offense rather than a third degree crime. That would drop penalties to a maximum of a $1,000 fine and six months in jail.

Currently, those convicted can face between three and five years in prison.

“It’s much simpler than what appears on the surface,” Assemblyman James Kennedy, D-Union, who sponsored the bill, said during Monday’s hearing. “This is really a downgrading of the charges.”

The move to legalize marijuana has been underway in New Jersey since 2014, but mushrooms only came up last month.

As lawmakers sought to pass a bill that would end arrests for up to six ounces of marijuana, Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, added a provision to downgrade penalties for psilocybin.

The measure passed the Senate by a vote of 29-4, but the Assembly did not put the amended bill for a full floor vote. The mushrooms came unexpectedly and took away from bill’s goal of ending tens of thousands of annual marijuana arrests that disproportionately involve minorities, some said.

Last week, Kennedy introduced the new bill to separate magic mushrooms. That cleared the way for conversations to resume on both the marijuana decriminalization bill and the bill that will establish rules and regulations for the legal industry.

Lawmakers came to a compromise on the setting rules for a new marijuana industry late Friday, and plan to hold a full vote on the legislation on Dec. 17. The Senate will have to repass its decriminalization bill without the mushroom provision and move on its own version.

New Jersey is not the first state to reconsider its laws on psychedelic mushrooms.

Colorado voted to decriminalize mushrooms in 2019 and Oregon voted this November to legalize their use for medicinal purposes. Several cities in California as well as Washington, D.C., have moved to end arrests over mushroom possession.

Some studies show promising medical benefits of psilocybin to treat depression and anxiety, particularly in cancer patients or others with chronic illnesses, like HIV, Mathew Johnson, a professor of psychiatry at and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said during the hearing.

He also said psilocybin carries no risk of an overdose, and the greatest risk comes from people making poor choices while impaired, or from people with certain psychological issues like schizophrenia having adverse reactions.

“When you include it even amongst a large group of legal and illegal drugs…psilocybin mushrooms always falls towards the bottom of the rankings in terms of harms to self or harms to others,” he said.

Some lawmakers remained hesitant.

“I think the bill sends the message to young people in our state that the recreational use and misuse of these substances is really not that big a deal,” said Christopher P. DePhillips, R-Bergen, who voted no on the bill.

Those in favor reiterated that the bill would not legalize or decriminalize the use of psilocybin, but would carry a punishment that more closely fit the crime.

“We open up job opportunities to so many folks who may have done this as a one-off, and then suffered with a life-long third degree indictable conviction,” said Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson.

“I think that public policy will be better served by treating this as a criminal act, but as a disorderly persons offense,” he said.


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