Cannabis for adult use is officially legal in New Jersey.
On Monday afternoon, Governor Phil Murphy began a COVID-19 briefing by announcing that he signed three pieces of legislation into law, bringing to an end months of debate and, at times, chaos, surrounding the push for cannabis reform in the state. Together, the bills decriminalize cannabis possession (up to six ounces) and establish a framework for adult use cannabis sales.
“As of this moment, New Jersey’s broken and indefensible marijuana laws, which permanently stain the records of many residents and short circuited their futures, and which disproportionately hurt communities of color and failed the meaning of justice at every level, social or otherwise, are no more,” Murphy said during the briefing.
“In their place are laws that will usher in a new industry based on equity and 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. And yes, we are fulfilling the will of the voters by allowing adult use cannabis while having in place common sense measures to deter its use among kids.”
Lawmakers have been unable to agree on adult use in recent years, so they decided to send the question to voters, who, in November, said yes. In December, after robust debate over everything from equity to workplace drug testing, lawmakers agreed on a bill to implement and establish the framework for adult use.
But January and February brought a series of twists and turns, spurred by disagreement between Murphy and lawmakers when it came to penalties for underage use. Lawmakers advanced “clean up” legislation in early January, only to pull it and insist that Murphy sign the original bill on his desk. Then, earlier this month, another clean up bill was introduced. Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee discussed the bill, but then called off the vote mid-week, only to turn right around and hold a vote that culminated in the passage of the bill on Friday.
After the passage of that bill, S 3454, on Friday, ACLU-NJ Policy Director Sarah Fajardo said in a statement, “In the three months since voters said yes to legalizing cannabis, over six thousand marijuana arrests have been made. We need New Jersey to put legalization and decriminalization into effect as soon as possible to end the harms of prohibition. We thank lawmakers for moving this legislation forward today, and we urge the full Legislature to pass it as quickly as possible.”
And, that is exactly what happened on Monday. The Senate passed S 3454 and the Assembly concurred, sending the clean up legislation to Murphy, who already had the adult use legislation (S21 and A21) and separate decriminalization legislation (S2535 and A1897) on his desk.
Murphy acknowledged the bumpy road, saying during his Monday briefing, “There isn’t anyone who has supported these efforts who wouldn’t acknowledge that this process has taken much longer than anticipated. But certainly it is better to get things done right than fast, and to ensure that all voices are heard and all views are considered. 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.”
Senator Nick Scutari, the lead sponsor of the legislation that implemented adult use cannabis legalization, and a longtime supporter of cannabis law reform, said in a statement on Monday that Murphy’s signature will “usher in a new era of social justice by doing away with the failed policy that criminalized the use of marijuana.”
Scutari continued, “Too many people have been arrested, incarcerated and left with criminal records that disrupt and even destroy their lives. We don’t want the criminal justice system to be an unfair barrier to success.”