New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation to legalize recreational marijuana, nearly four months after Garden State residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of the measure.
“Our current marijuana prohibition laws have failed every test of social justice, which is why for years I’ve strongly supported the legalization of adult-use cannabis,” the governor said in a press release. “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.”
The move comes three year since Gov Murphy campaigned on a pledge to legalize adult use cannabis in New Jersey. He signed three bills into law, the culmination of a drawn out process amid disagreements with legislators following the Election Day vote. The primary bill – A21 – allows for possession of up to six ounces of cannabis by adults aged 21 and older, while providing for legal sales. Home cultivation of marijuana plants for personal use remains illegal.
The legislation establishes the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) as the authority responsible for developing marijuana industry regulations and overseeing the license application process. A21 also contains provisions to promote inclusion into the legal industry of individuals from communities most harmed by marijuana criminalization.
The second bill – A1897 – provides for expungements of prior marijuana offenses and facilitates vacation of active prison sentences. It also comprises other civil and criminal penalty reforms to ensure low level cannabis offenses cannot be used as a basis for discrimination in housing, employment and court decisions.
The final bill – S3454 – clarifies the reduced penalties for individuals younger than 21 years old found in possession of marijuana. This issue proved to be the thorniest in the legislative stand off between Gov. Murphy and lawmakers.
Distributing cannabis without a license remains illegal, though it’s possible to “transfer without remuneration” up to one ounce of cannabis so long as its for “non-promotional, non-business purposes.” Given legal marijuana sales are not expected to start for another year – except for medical cannabis dispensaries – this gives black market dealers some wiggle room as well as retailers who may drum up business by offering cannabis as a parting gift to customers, along similar lines as Washington, D.C. and Michigan, before the latter legalized marijuana sales.
Amol Sinha, Executive Director of the New Jersey chapter of the ACLU and founding member of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform, heralded the news while cautioning that the real work of advancing social and racial justice starts now.
“Our state’s cannabis laws can set a new standard for what justice can look like, with the removal of criminal penalties for possession and an unprecedented portion of tax revenue dedicated to addressing the harms wrought by the drug war,” said Sinha. “Signing these laws puts in motion the next phase of this effort: to work relentlessly to transform the principles of legalization into greater racial and social justice in New Jersey.”
While legal sales may still be quite some way off, marijuana legalization in New Jersey is sure to provide a timely boost to the state’s economy following a brutal year. New Jersey’s move to legalize cannabis is likely to spur cannabis reform through the Northeast, with Pennsylvania and New York in particular poised to pass the measure.