Legislators approve rules around legalization, decriminalization of recreational cannabis

Years after advocates began pushing for the legalization of recreational use of cannabis — and a little more than a month after New Jersey voters overwhelmingly backed the idea, the Legislature on Thursday passed a bill that established the rules and regulations for legal cannabis sales.

The bill, which passed 23-17 in the Senate and 49-24 in the Assembly, now goes to Gov. Phil Murphy, who has indicated he will sign it.

The passage is about more than just legalizing recreational use. It also signifies an effort to combat social injustice.

A decriminalization bill, which end arrests for possessing less than 6 ounces of marijuana, passed in the Senate, 31-2, and in the Assembly, 64-12 with three abstentions.

Supporters have said cannabis comes with a huge arrest bias. New Jersey law enforcement officers made over 24,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, more than in the previous 20 years — approximately one every 22 minutes.

Cannabis possession arrests also constituted three out of five drug arrests in 2012. And African Americans are nearly three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white New Jerseyans, despite similar usage rates with white counterparts.

The 240-page bill will send 70% of the state sales tax revenue from cannabis purchases and an excise tax on cannabis growers to underserved communities that have been disproportionately impacted by drugs.

Three of the sponsors of the legislation were thrilled by its passage:

  • Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Paterson): “This is only one piece of the many parts of change that must be done in the name of social justice for our communities. The war on drugs in many ways became a war on particular communities, incarcerating millions of people and affecting families irreparably for decades. The action we take now to help our Black and brown communities who have been disproportionately affected by current laws surrounding cannabis use is critical to trauma for future generations.”
  • Assemblywomen Annette Quijano (D-Elizabeth): “There have been far too many people, especially those from Black and Hispanic communities, who have been negatively impacted by the criminalization of cannabis. There have been long-term impacts on the lives of all people in this state, but considerably those of color. This legislation is the product of taking a hard look at our current laws, listening to the will of the majority of New Jerseyans and taking a common-sense approach to cannabis offenses.”
  • Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Union): “Black New Jerseyans are up to four times more likely to be arrested on cannabis charges than white people. It is a sad fact, a further painful reminder that so many people in our communities have been disenfranchised for far too long. There have always been glaring social justice concerns and obvious inequity in the high number of arrests of minority residents. Now, finally, is the time for it to stop.”