New Jersey governor signs legislation legalizing adult-use recreational cannabis

“Today, we’re taking a monumental step forward to reduce racial disparities in our criminal justice system, while building a promising new industry and standing on the right side of history”

NJ-murphy

Photo of Phil Murphy, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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The governor of New Jersey has signed legislation that will legalize adult cannabis use in the state.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed the three bills today. The first creates a regulated cannabis industry in New Jersey. The second law will decriminalize possession of up to six ounces of weed for people aged 21 and older. The third expunges up to a quarter-million low-level cannabis arrests.

The legislation, passed earlier on Monday by the State Assembly and Senate, also eases penalties for minors for possession. Distribution and growing cannabis without a license, however, remain illegal.

“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. 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 Democratic governor said in a press release. “This November, New Jerseyans voted overwhelmingly in support of creating a well-regulated adult-use cannabis market. 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.”

Economic opportunity 

“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 continued. “Today, we’re taking a monumental step forward to reduce racial disparities in our criminal justice system, while building a promising new industry and standing on the right side of history.”

New Jersey voters approved a measure in November to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis via constitutional amendment. As the Philadelphia Inquirer noted today, however: “Murphy had balked at signing the bills because he was concerned that the laws hadn’t specified uniform penalties for underage users. Those issues were addressed in a so-called ‘clean-up’ bill.”

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws gave the new legislation a cautiously optimistic thumbs-up.

“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,”  NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a statement, “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.”

It could be up to a year before New Jersey dispensaries start selling cannabis to the public.

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