New Jersey Plans to Implement Adult-Use Market ASAP
Published on 12/10/20
U.S. citizens did not just vote for a new president on November 3rd. There were several exciting referendums at the state level that proved that the desire for legal and accessible cannabis is as strong as ever. Five states legalized marijuana programs, including New Jersey, which will be the fourth state in the Northeast and the most populous commonwealth in that part of the country to allow legal recreational cannabis sales. The fact that the state is sandwiched between the massive populations of Philadelphia and New York City means that access to New Jersey marijuana will make a lot of people happy.
New Jersey Marijuana Legalization
Medical marijuana patients rejoiced in 2010 when outgoing governor Jon Corzine signed Marijuana Bill (S119)into law on his last day of office and changed New Jersey marijuana laws to provide for legal medical cannabis use. Little did the Garden State's patients know how quickly that delight would vanish. The man replacing Corzine in the Governor's Mansion was Chris Christie, who wasted no time making it clear that he was a major opponent of any type of legal weed and he implemented roadblocks that made N.J. legal weed some of the most difficult to access in the country.
Primarily due to Christie's antipathy for cannabis, the state's roll-out was slower and far more restrictive than patients and state lawmakers expected and intended when creating the N.J. medical marijuana bill. The number of qualifying diseases was reduced, patients were prohibited from growing their own supply, only six dispensaries in the state were granted licenses and taxes made the state's cannabis very expensive. Although the bill was signed in January of 2010, New Jersey's medical marijuana registry did not open until 2012 and the first dispensary did not open until 2013.
As of March 1, 2016, there were only 3,727 registered medical marijuana patientsout of the state's population of almost nine million people. Compare that with Oregon which had 77,620 patients out of a population of four million. The lack of participation has been attributed to the abnormally strict regulations, such as the requirement that patients be reassessed every 90 days by doctors who have registered with the state and participated in state-regulated training.
New Jersey Becomes One of the Latest Legal Weed States
On November 3rd, residents enthusiastically voted in favor of Public Question No. 1. That referendum added New Jersey to the list of states where weed is legal for recreational use. The vote with a margin of 2-1 tasks lawmakers with developing legislation that will create a state commission and delineate the parameters of the marketplace. Current governor Phil Murphy has been a champion of legal recreational cannabis since he made it a cornerstone of his gubernatorial campaign in 2017 and is obviously pleased with the outcome. Support from the highest public official in New Jersey was key in the success of the NJ CAN 2020 campaign that proponents of Public Question No. 1 initiated to garner support to make N.J. one of the states with legal weed in the U.S.
The hashtag #TurnthePage was implemented by the campaign to remind voters to literally turn the page of their ballots to find where they could vote for the proposition. The campaign was also notable for its focus on social justice and quality for residents of New Jersey. Governor Murphy said, "One hundred fifty million dollars. That's what processing marijuana arrests costs New Jersey taxpayers every year"arrests that disproportionately impact young people of color and make it harder for them to get a job, a place to live, even a credit card."
An interesting aspect of New Jersey's progression toward legalization is that out of the states that legalized weed, N.J. has already made moves to address the gross inequity of marijuana enforcement that has disproportionately derailed the lives of black citizens. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, black people in New Jersey were arrested for marijuana possession at a rate 3.45 times higher than whites in New Jersey in 2018, despite similar usage. Back in 2019, an expungement bill passed in the state assembly with a 48-21 vote and in the state senate by a 22-15 vote. Bill A. 5981/S. 4154 restored voting rights to approximately 80,000 people and paved the way for the expungement of low-level marijuana offenses. It also provided for an automated process to clear convictions and criminal records via an e-filing system that eliminated any fees for those seeking expungement. $15 million has been set aside from the state budget to expand the workforce needed to process expungement petitions prior to the launch of the automated system.
Is Marijuana Legal in New Jersey?
The official date of recreational legalization is January 1, 2021, but Governor Murphy says that it will be about a year before retail sales can be initiated. New Jersey has a sales tax of 6.625% and the legislature needs to decide whether to add a marijuana sales tax on top of that. There is also no current plan for allocation of the tax revenues that will come from legalization and the number of licenses that will be granted for growers and dispensaries needs to be addressed. A 216-page bill currently sits in the New Jersey legislature that will answer some of these questions and provide clarity and an outline for how the state will move forward. Public Question No. 1 is the enabling legislation; N.J. lawmakers still have to pass the separate bill that will establish a legal framework and a regulated marketplace. Garden State stoners are also waiting to find out how much weed they'll be able to legally purchase and grow. Until then, possession of 50 grams or less can land them in jail for six months and slap them with a fine of up to $1,000.
What do you think of marijuana legalization in New Jersey? Let us know in the comments below!