“The Punishment Doesn’t fit the Crime”
As the New Jersey state legislature prepares to present the bill to downgrade charges on psilocybin this week, Assemblyman James Kennedy, who introduced the psilocybin bill separately earlier in December, shares the details with Truffle Report.
“The bill was initially attached to the marijuana bill and they’re two different things. The marijuana bill is decriminalization of the substance, in terms of making it [partially] legal and this [psilocybin] bill is not making it legal. It is downgrading the charges,” Assemblyman Kennedy says.
A new bill that reclassifies possession of psilocybin as a disorderly persons offence was introduced by Assemblyman Kennedy on December 7 after the previous attempt to reclassify psilocybin within the marijuana bill created confusion among lawmakers.
‘This bill would reclassify possession of psilocybin as a disorderly persons offence, punishable by up to up to six months imprisonment, a fine of up to $1,000, or both,’ the proposed bill reads. If passed, the altered legislation would allow adults age 21 and over in the State of New Jersey to possess up to an ounce of magic mushrooms, or psilocybin, while regrading the resulting charges. Possession of any amount of psilocybin, a Schedule I substance, is a third-degree felony under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act.
“Currently, the charge on possession carries a penalty for three to five years [of imprisonment]. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. [In this bill] it’s one ounce which is neither a small nor a large amount,” Assemblyman Kennedy says.
Stating that the college students in New Jersey are among the most pronounced users of mushrooms, Assemblyman Kennedy adds, “It will not be treated with severe punishment of three to five years of jail term [if the quantity in possession is] one ounce and less. However, it doesn’t lower punishment for those who are selling it.”
While this bill will reduce the penalty on possession, it is different from the decriminalization of simple possession of psilocybin, or the movement to decriminalize entheogenic plants currently underway in several US states and jurisdictions including Oregon, California, and Washington D.C.
“The intent is that it is still illegal. It’s still a criminal charge to manufacture it, to sell it,” Assemblyman Kennedy tells Truffle, sharing his dismay about people misunderstanding the bill.
He continues, “It’s different from other decriminalization movements going on in other jurisdictions and states. Anyone dealing in the drugs will be looking at three to five years of punishment if they have more than an ounce. It is only downgrading the punishment and not decriminalization.”
What Led To Introducing a Separate Psilocybin Bill?
New Jersey lawmakers were caught off-guard by the additional amendment clause added in November.
“I, like many of the legislators, was kind of surprised. We were dealing strictly with a marijuana bill which I don’t think too many people had an issue with it,” Assemblyman Kennedy shares. He continues, “When it (the marijuana bill) was introduced [for a vote], it came along with the psilocybin and it threw people in a bit of confusion.” The unexpected addition of psilocybin held back the marijuana bill in the Assembly. However, it created an opportunity for a separate bill on the reclassification of the substance.
When the mushroom clause was taken out of the marijuana bill, it made it easier for lawmakers to vote and pass it in the Assembly. “It was a smarter way to do it. I think the confusion among a lot of people is they were assuming this was decriminalization which means making it [partially] legal. It is not,” Assemblyman Kennedy shares.
The only reason, Assemblyman Kennedy shares, for him to introduce it as a separate bill was that the crime and punishment didn’t fit. “My issue was that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime in the existing law and that’s my only concern with it right now,” he says.
The bill will be up for another vote on December 17. Expressing his optimism, Assemblyman Kennedy says, “I think there’s some bipartisan support for the downgrading of the charges. I feel confident that it should pass in the Assembly and move forward from there.”
Ritika is a Toronto-based reporter. She writes about drug policies and developments in psychedelics.