New Jersey famously legalized cannabis this past election, but the clock is ticking, and there is still no formal consensus on how to get the ball rolling with legalization and set up a fully legal industry. Now, following many setbacks, the governor and state senate are finally close to reaching an agreement.
This agreement, once finalized, would get rid of the criminal charges tied to underage cannabis possession, something that Governor Phil Murphy has emphasized is a matter of great importance to him before he signs off on legalization. Murphy was concerned that the language of the bill that landed on his desk was too lenient on minors, perhaps even encouraging underage drug use. Now, the senate wants to meet him halfway by ensuring that there are penalties for legal adults who underage, but not for minors.
While nothing is final yet in this negotiation, it is likely that the deal will entirely get rid of all penalties for anyone under 18 years old, meaning that there is no way a cannabis charge under the age of 18 can permanently impact a record. There will be fines for those between the ages of 18 and 21.
Instead, if anyone 18 or younger is caught using cannabis, the local police will bring the matter to the attention of the child’s family. If anyone between 18 and 21 uses cannabis, they could be charged with civil penalties between $250 and $500, but nothing that would have an irredeemable impact on a young life.
Similarly, under this agreement, those 21 and over would be charged a fine if they possess more than six ounces of cannabis. Otherwise, the possession would be deemed legal.
The Clock Is Ticking
Many are now hoping the deal comes through, as time is running out for the newly legal state to establish a fully legal industry. If something is passed in the next few days, there could still be time for the senate to push the legislation through to a committee hearing.
“It is paramount that lawmakers agree to a legislative remedy by the end of the year in order to comport with the will of the voters and to avoid further confusion,” Carly Wolf, the state policies coordinator for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said last month, according to a press release. “Justice delayed is justice denied. It is long past time that New Jerseyans enjoyed the same freedoms as those in many other states and are able to legally possess cannabis without the threat of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration.”
This issue has been the last holdout in a long list of important issues that are up for debate in the state, as legislators have been hashing out how charges will be dealt for those who do violate the new law, how social equity can be sought, and what the legal industry should look like overall. However, the end is hopefully in sight for the state to turn the “yes” vote from November into a full, reputable cannabis industry.