New Jersey Lawmakers Approve Recreational Marijuana Bills

New Jersey may be getting legal recreational cannabis soon.
New Jersey Lawmakers Approve Recreational Marijuana Bills

New Jersey state lawmakers passed landmark legislation to legalize recreational marijuana on Thursday, following through on the will of voters who overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to legalize adult-use cannabis in last month’s election. Approval of the bills comes after Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and legislative leaders announced earlier this month that they had come to an agreement on the provisions of the measures.

“The New Jersey Legislature has delivered the most progressive legislation in the nation regarding marijuana legalization, incorporating critical components of social justice and social equity that communities of color and others have been demanding for years,” Democratic Assemblyman Jamel Holley, a sponsor of the legislation, said in a statement. “This is a defining moment in the history of our state, as we finally put an end to a failed ‘War on Drugs’ that has shattered the lives of many, forced into lengthy, senseless incarceration.”

Legalization Approved By New Jersey Voters

State lawmakers had worked for several years to draft bills to legalize the recreational use of marijuana by adults and to establish a regulated cannabis economy but were unable to reach agreement on sticking points including social equity measures. That prompted legislators to put the issue before the people in November’s election, leading to the approval of a ballot measure by 67% of the voters. 

That mandate from the voters spurred lawmakers to reach a compromise on a regulation plan, which was approved by the Assembly on Thursday by a vote of 49 to 24, with six abstentions. Senate approval followed later Thursday with a vote of 23 to 17. The plan allows adults to purchase up to one ounce of cannabis from licensed retailers. Under the measures, 70% of sales tax revenue generated by marijuana sales will be directed to communities disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs.

“I commend lawmakers for working quickly to implement the will of the voters, who made their mandate clear at the ballot box,” Carly Wolf, the state policies director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said after the vote. “While this legislation is not perfect and our work is far from finished, it is a crucial step forward toward repairing the decades of damage done to New Jersey’s most vulnerable communities as a result of the enforcement of marijuana prohibition.”

Possession Of Pot Decriminalized

Legislators also approved a separate measure that removes all civil and criminal penalties for possession of up to six ounces of marijuana and distribution of up to one ounce. NORML noted that an analysis of nationwide arrest data published in 2018 found that New Jersey was second in the nation in marijuana arrests per capita, trailing only Wyoming.

“Historically, law enforcement in New Jersey has arrested more people per capita for marijuana law violations than almost any other state in the nation,” Wolf added. “Most notably, going forward tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding New Jerseyans will no longer be subject to arrest, incarceration, and a criminal record for their personal use of marijuana, and that is a reason to celebrate.”

Amol Sinha, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, applauded the significance of the deal reached by lawmakers.

“We’re all recognizing the historic nature of this moment,” said Sinha. “For years now, the better part of a decade, we have been advocating for legislation that would legalize cannabis and help repair the harms of the War on Drugs. We are finally at a place where we can see the finish line.”

“While the bill is not perfect, it’s a creature of compromise,” he said.

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