The road to adult-use cannabis legalization in New Jersey has been a long, winding path riddled with hurdles and setbacks. After New Jersey failed to legalize cannabis via the legislative process for many years lawmakers referred the issue to voters.
Voters approved the cannabis legalization measure in a resounding fashion during the 2020 general election. While the vote legalized cannabis in New Jersey, implementation legislation was still required.
After a lot of back and forth, New Jersey lawmakers finally passed the necessary legislation and Governor Phil Murphy has signed it. Below is more information about it via a news release from our friends at NORML:
Three bills were signed by the Governor. A21/S21 licenses the commercial production and retail sale of cannabis to adults. Under the new law, those age 21 or older may legally purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis. Retail sales are subject to state sales tax. Seventy percent of the revenue derived from sales taxes will be directed toward reinvestment in designated, lower-income communities. An additional excise tax will also be imposed on commercial sales.
The new law caps the number of state-licensed cultivators at 37 for the first two years. Existing state-licensed medical cannabis producers will be among those eligible to provide to the retail market. It has been estimated that adult-use retailers may be operational within six months.
Murphy also signed A1897, which removes criminal and civil penalties for the private possession of up to six ounces of cannabis by adults, as well as for the possession of personal use amounts of hashish (up to 170 grams). It also depenalizes activities involving the transfer of up to one ounce of cannabis, and reduces criminal penalties for activities involving larger quantities (distribution of more than one ounce, but less than five pounds) of the substance.
Provisions in the law also seek to facilitate the expungement of criminal records involving low-level marijuana crimes. Said Gov. Murphy in a statement, “Starting immediately, those who had been subject to an arrest for petty marijuana possession will be able to get relief and move forward.”
Gov. Murphy also signed a third piece of legislation into law, A5342. It provides for a series of written warnings, rather than the imposition of either criminal penalties or fines, for those under the age of 21 who are caught with cannabis. The Governor lobbied for the measure, which was passed by lawmakers just hours before being signed into law. Under the measure, third-time juvenile offenders could receive community service. Provisions in the law also restrict police from conducting searches of juveniles based solely on the odor of marijuana and include punitive measures if law enforcement intentionally do so anyway.
“The enactment of these laws is long overdue,” said NORML State Policies Manager Carly Wolf — who emphasized that state and local police have made over 6,000 arrests for marijuana-related violations in the months since New Jersey voters overwhelmingly decided in favor of legalization at the ballot box. Newly issued guidance from the state’s attorney general’s office has requested that local prosecutors drop those cases. “Now, going forward, tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding New Jerseyans will no longer be subject to arrest and a criminal record for their personal use of marijuana, and the commercial market will be regulated in a fair and inclusive manner.”
An analysis of nationwide arrest data published in 2018 reported that New Jersey ranked third in the nation in total marijuana arrests and second only to Wyoming in per capita arrests.
Provisions in the bill allowing the use and possession of marijuana take immediate effect.
“While we are pleased to see the will of New Jersey voters finally enshrined into approved legislation, it was a grotesque failure on the part of elected leadership that it took so long to do so,” stated NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri, “Despite nearly seven in ten New Jersey residents voting in favor of legalization on Election Day, it took lawmakers 111 days following that vote to achieve consensus to enact enabling legislation into law. During this undue delay, over 6,000 citizens faced charges for activities most New Jerseyans demanded be legalized. It is our hope that lawmakers and regulators going forward implement these laws with a renewed sense of urgency.”
Governor Murphy acknowledged the delay, stating, “Although this process has taken longer than anticipated, I believe it is ending in the right place and will ultimately serve as a national model.”
New Jersey is among the fifteen states where either voters or lawmakers have enacted legislation legalizing the possession and distribution of marijuana to adults.