Today, February 22, 2021, Governor Phil Murphy officially signed the bill to legalize adult-use cannabis in New Jersey. The fight for legalization in the state has been a long one. Late last year, the people voted for the legalization of adult-use cannabis within New Jersey, but found the road to proper budgeting and regulation blocked by officials. Murphy had been unable to come to an agreement with other lawmakers on the appropriate consequences if someone underage were arrested for possession and/or consumption of cannabis. However, today’s bill legalizes cannabis for possession and consumption of anyone over the age of 21.
Governor Murphy made his big decision based on how the previous laws and regulations had adversely affected communities: “New Jersey’s broken, indefensible marijuana laws — which permanently stained the records of many residents and short-circuited their futures, disproportionately hurt communities of color and failed the meaning of justice at every level, social or otherwise — are no more.”
What does this mean for consumption?
For medical cannabis users, this is a big relief, but for people looking to legally purchase adult-use cannabis within New Jersey, they are going to have to wait. Users are now allowed to possess and consume cannabis products, but it is not yet possible for them to purchase in commonplace areas as in other adult-use states like California and Colorado. There are a few medical dispensaries across the state, but adult-use dispensaries and product shops will not open until Spring.
It will take a bit for companies to begin to expand within New Jersey, which means that we might not see multiple recreational dispensaries for a little while. Murphy explained in a tweet that he wants to work to create a regulated cannabis marketplace within the state, thus making the consumption of adult-use cannabis safer for consumers statewide.
Multiple bills signed on Monday concerned cannabis legalization in New Jersey. Murphy also signed a bill decriminalizing cannabis possession in small amounts. There is a limit to the amount of cannabis one is legally allowed to have in possession and that is six ounces. While many wait for easy access to cannabis, there is a breath of fresh air for others who know they will not be arrested for possession and consumption.
Growing cannabis without a license will continue to be illegal within the state for regulation purposes. Another aspect that will remain illegal is distributing drugs without a license, which is necessary for safety but does stop income for some individuals.
As the bills were being formed, many citizens were worried as to where taxes on the plant would go.
Murphy provided some vague insight on this topic: “In their place are laws that will usher in a new industry, based on equity, which will reinvest dollars into communities – laws which promote both public health by promoting safe cannabis products and public safety by allowing law enforcement to focus their resources on serious crimes.” Legislators have made the decision that 60 percent of the tax revenue will be put back into the community through 20 impact zones, places that were heavily impacted by the illegal cannabis laws.
Impact on the East Coast
New Jersey is the fourth East Coast state to legalize cannabis, joining Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Many now wonder if there is success with New Jersey, will this be what pushes New York over the edge into legalization?
While this news is exciting, it still leaves the question of what will happen to the many who are already behind bars because of the previous laws. How New Jersey will address issues of equity, expungement, reparations, and compassionate release has yet to be determined, but for now we can celebrate a step in the right direction.