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Jersey City becomes 1st to decriminalize marijuana in NJ

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Marijuana possession has been downgraded to a misdemeanor in Jersey City as of Thursday.

Causing a public nuisance with marijuana possession, such as smoking in a public park near children, can still land users in court, but now it won't give users a criminal record.

Instead, they could face a $50 fine or five hours community service, whereas before they could be looking at jail time.

Jersey City made the policy change with the hope of inspiring other towns statewide to follow suit.

“The fact is, marijuana arrests and prosecutions in New Jersey, and around the nation, point to severe inequalities that negatively impact people of color disproportionately, and lead to long-term economic challenges for anyone who finds themselves prosecuted for possession,” Mayor Steven Fulop said. “We are working to correct this with our new policy in a proactive way, and I am proud that we will be the first in the state to do so.”

This comes as New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced he wants to see more dispensaries for medical marijuana.

An estimated 25,000 people in the Garden State are arrested every year for illegal recreational marijuana possession, which costs the justice system about $1 billion to deal with annually, including jailing, policing and court proceedings.

"Communities of color are three times more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for marijuana than white New Jerseyans," chief Jersey City prosecutor Jake Hudnut said. "The reason that’s troubling is because data shows us that the cross-racial usage of marijuana is even."

Across the river in New York City, the majority of New Yorkers found smoking marijuana in public will receive a summons instead of being arrested. Police will shift their enforcement of marijuana laws by Sept. 1 in a change that will help reduce marijuana arrests by about 10,000 per year in the five boroughs.