Following New Jersey voters’ approval of a constitutional amendment to legalize adult-use cannabis last fall, Gov. Phil Murphy today signed legislation to do just that. The Feb. 22 signing of three separate bills came after weeks of back-and-forth in the state legislature, and, ultimately, after years of debate in New Jersey over how to accomplish this goal.
“This process may have had its fits and starts, but it is ending in the right place. And, I firmly believe, this process has ended in laws that will serve as a national model,” Murphy said.
One of the last hurdles to clear in today’s "cleanup bill," A5342, was the approach to law enforcement when dealing with underage cannabis possession, part of a broader intention to pass decriminalization legislation alongside the implementation of a regulatory regime. The debate over that bill lasted until just before Murphy’s 12 p.m. ET deadline to act on related cannabis legalization bills. State legislators landed on a cleanup bill today that sets up a written warning and community service policy for underage possession, rather than punitive civil penalties. (For those 21 and older, possession of up to six ounces is now legal, a critical step toward the amelioration of the long-standing war on drugs.)
The decriminalization measures take effect immediately. According to NORML, in the past 111 days since the election, "over 6,000 citizens faced charges for activities most New Jerseyans demanded be legalized."
Amol Sinha, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, joined the chorus of support and praise following's Murphy's signing event: "Our state’s cannabis laws can set a new standard for what justice can look like, with the removal of criminal for possession and an unprecedented portion of revenue dedicated to addressing the harms wrought by the drug war. This is a new beginning – and the culmination of years of advocacy – and we must keep in mind that it is only the start. 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.”
Looking ahead to a taxed-and-regulated cannabis market in the state, 100% of an excise fee on cultivators and 70% of sales tax will be funneled toward social justice measures in communities that have borne a disproportionate impact from the aforementioned war on drugs.
"This is a major milestone on the path to ending cannabis prohibition in New Jersey," said Jennifer Cabrera of Vicente Sederberg LLP, in a public statement.
There is no immediate timeline for adult-use cannabis sales to begin in New Jersey, though a soon-to-be-named Cannabis Regulatory Commission is expected to convene in the near future to get the ball rolling.
"The legislation was intended to promote small locally owned businesses and should foster a vibrant craft cannabis industry in the state," Cabrera said. "It reserves licenses for microbusinesses and offers them a streamlined application process that will reduce barriers to entry and help them get a footing in this growing industry. There are some additional steps we would like to see policymakers take to make it easier to operate these microbusinesses, and we look forward to working with them as they fine-tune the system. Still, this is a great starting point and opens the door to a lot of exciting opportunity for local entrepreneurs."