New Jersey was one of the states that voted to legalize cannabis on Election Day in 2020, and lawmakers were forced to comply. As previously reported by Leafwell, the way the state went about things was a bit different. Legislators were unable to agree on legalization or a simple decriminalization bill.
Years of Activism and Clear Voter Support Take Victory
When voters chose the sensible decision of cannabis policy reform, lawmakers were faced with creating a general framework for what legalization will look like in New Jersey.
“This is a historic reform that will have a real-life impact on social justice, law enforcement and the state’s economy. It will launch a new cannabis industry with the potential to create jobs and economic activity at a time when it is desperately needed,” Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) said in a press release according to Marijuana Moment. “We will now be able to move forward to correct social and legal injustices that have had a discriminatory impact on communities of color at the same time that marijuana is regulated and made legal for adults.”
After much debate, both parties have finally agreed and last week the state Assembly passed the bill with a 49-24 vote. The Senate quickly followed suit with a 31-2 vote, sending the bill to Governor Phil Murphy for signature to become law. When that happens, there will be three bills becoming law.
An Expungement and Decriminalization Plan that Takes Responsibility
The bills not only decriminalize cannabis, make personal use legal, and set up a tax framework for the state, it also aims to expunge criminal records, vacate sentences and ensure that some of the tax revenue goes to the communities most impacted by the war on drugs.
“This is just the first step in restoring justice for communities that have been most devastated by the War on Drugs across our state for decades. And while our work to repair the damage done by the drug war is far from over, today is a moment for celebration,” said Rev. Dr. Charles F. Boyer according to Patch.
Expunging criminal records to match the current laws will be life-changing for some individuals. Even a simple marijuana possession charge can stand between you and your dream job, safe and clean housing, and more. This is something that was often an afterthought in the earliest cannabis legalization laws (such as Colorado and Washington) and seeing it included means legislators are aiming for real policy reform.
“People now have the opportunity to get jobs and go to college who might not have been able to because they’d been arrested for marijuana in their younger years,” Scutari said. “It’s a significant accomplishment for New Jersey and is likely the most significant piece of legislation we’ve passed in my lifetime.”
Along with passing laws to implement the will of the voters, lawmakers also passed a decriminalization bill called S2535/A1897. This bill immediately decriminalizes possession up to six ounces as well as first offenses for low-level distribution, ending arrests for cannabis as soon as it is signed into law.
Taxes Are Settled but Regulatory Framework Will Take Months to Hash Out
One of the things lawmakers were never able to agree on before was taxes. If you charge too much, you’re going to continue fueling the black market. On the other hand, if you don’t tax enough, you won’t cover the cost of implementing the new laws. More importantly, is where that tax money gets designated.
For New Jersey, a provision will now ensure that 70 percent of all state marijuana sales tax will go to what is considered the “impact zones” or areas determined by the state to have been more negatively impacted by marijuana prohibition.
Along with the state sales tax, local municipalities that decide to allow marijuana businesses can collect an additional 2 percent tax and retain the revenue. However, the bill did cap cannabis facilities at 37 for the first 24 months.
However, regulations on dispensaries themselves, the laws that will govern the industry like seed-to-sale tracking systems and other precautions, will be worked out over the next few months.
There is still a lot that needs to be decided before legal cannabis can go on sale in New Jersey. For many states, implementing industry regulation has taken months, even years depending on legislative delays.
Leafwell will continue to keep you updated on the state of cannabis legalization in New Jersey as lawmakers work toward following through with the wants of voters.
Governor Phil Murphy has Signed the Bills to Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis Use
After seemingly endless debate in legislature, Governor Phil Murphy has signed the bills that legalize adult-use and possession of cannabis in the state of New Jersey. Residents of the Garden State can now legally light up if they are 21 and older and not in a public space, of course.
In effect immediately, possession of up to six ounces of marijuana has been fully decriminalized without any civil fines or tickets attached as some states and local municipalities have done in the past. Penalties for underage use have been changed as well, no longer including fines or criminal punishments but instead offering written warnings and referrals to community services such as mentorship and counseling.
“This legislation will establish an industry that brings equity and economic opportunity to our communities while establishing minimum standards for safe products and allowing law enforcement to focus their resources on real public safety matters,” Murphy said in a statement according to ABC News.
Between when New Jersey voters legalized marijuana on November 3rd through January of this year police officers have already made over 6,000 arrests for possession of under 50 grams of marijuana. Despite the ballot measure passing, police seemed to take advantage of the fact that the law didn’t technically change until these bills were signed into law. Prosecutors on the other hand, seem to have followed the state attorney general’s direction and have suspended cases waiting for these changes to be finalized.
“Our current marijuana prohibition laws have failed every test of social justice,” Mr. Murphy said in a statement on Monday according to the New York Times. “Maintaining a status quo that allows tens of thousands, disproportionately people of color, to be arrested in New Jersey each year for low-level drug offenses is unjust and indefensible.”
While you can now legally consume and possess marijuana in New Jersey, the idea of going to a dispensary to buy your bud is still months away at the earliest. Eventually, existing medical marijuana dispensaries may be allowed to sell to the public but there are currently only 13 dispensaries for the entire state. This certainly won’t be enough to keep up with demand for the whole state, so legalized or not, legal access is likely going to be limited for the foreseeable future.