After years of lobbying and campaigning — and months after it was overwhelmingly approved by New Jersey voters — a number of adult-use cannabis reform bills were signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday, legalizing and regulating cannabis use and possession for adults 21 years and older.
Murphy signed A1897, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance and Marketplace Modernization Act, decriminalizing marijuana and hashish possession. He also signed S3454, clarifying marijuana and cannabis use and possession penalties for individuals younger than 21 years old.
Murphy said the day has long been overdue.
Four crucial questions about cannabis in N.J. … and answers from our experts:
- How do you serve those in the cannabis industry?
- What is a barrier to entry — or an issue most people don’t think of — that needs to be addressed to play in this space?
- How should those who want to be involved in the industry proceed in the next 12 months as the rules and regulations — and the licensing — are worked out?
- What’s something else we should know about doing business in the cannabis space in New Jersey?
“Our current marijuana prohibition laws have failed every test of social justice, which is why for years I’ve strongly supported the legalization of adult-use cannabis,” he said. “Maintaining a status quo that allows tens of thousands, disproportionately people of color, to be arrested in New Jersey each year for low-level drug offenses is unjust and indefensible.
“This November, New Jerseyans voted overwhelmingly in support of creating a well-regulated adult-use cannabis market. Although this process has taken longer than anticipated, I believe it is ending in the right place and will ultimately serve as a national model.”
Murphy said the industry will be set up in a way that many can participate.
“This legislation will establish an industry that brings equity and economic opportunity to our communities, while establishing minimum standards for safe products and allowing law enforcement to focus their resources on real public safety matters,” he said. “Today, we’re taking a monumental step forward to reduce racial disparities in our criminal justice system, while building a promising new industry and standing on the right side of history. I’d like to thank the Legislature, advocates, faith leaders and community leaders for their dedicated work and partnership on this critical issue.”
Here’s a look at what the bills do:
- A21: It says the Cannabis Regulatory Commission will now promulgate regulations to govern the medical and adult-use industries and oversee the applications for licensing of cannabis businesses. The legislation further provides for the Legislature to reinvest cannabis revenues in designated “impact zones”; directs the CRC to promote diversity and inclusion in business ownership; and contains critical employment protections for people who engage in lawful behavior with respect to cannabis.
- A1897: It reforms criminal and civil penalties for marijuana and hashish offenses, as well as provides remedies for people currently facing certain marijuana charges. The bill prevents unlawful low-level distribution and possession offenses from being used in pretrial release, probation and parole decisions and provides certain protections against discrimination in employment, housing and places of public accommodation. The bill also creates a pathway to vacate active sentences for certain offenses committed before enactment of the enabling legislation.
- S3454: It clarifies penalties for marijuana and cannabis possession and consumption for individuals younger than 21 years old. The legislation corrects inconsistencies in A21 and A1897 concerning marijuana and cannabis penalties for those underage.
State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Newark) said the day represents years of work.
“I have been working on decriminalizing adult-use marijuana for well over three years now, and I am happy to finally see it become a reality,” he said. “This is a common-sense and just law that gives an equal playing field for folks in communities of color. Many have argued that legalizing adult-use marijuana has been for social, economic and criminal justice; however, decriminalization, for me, is equally as important. I will continue to watch closely and fight to ensure communities of color are treated equally.”
Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Paterson) said: “This is only one piece in 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.”
Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden), the leading advocate of legalizing adult-use marijuana in New Jersey over the past decade, saluted the moment.
“This will usher in a new era of social justice by doing away with the failed policy that criminalized the use of marijuana,” he said. “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.
“By implementing a regulated system that allows people age 21 and over to purchase limited amounts of marijuana for personal use, we will bring marijuana out of the underground market where it can be controlled, regulated and taxed, just as alcohol has been for decades. New Jersey will now be a leader in legalizing a once-stigmatized drug in ways that will help the communities hurt the most by the War on Drugs and realize the economic benefits of the new adult-use cannabis market.”
The signing was recognized by a number of public officials. Here are some of the responses:
- U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.): “The failed War on Drugs has systematically targeted people of color and the poor, disproportionately impacting Black and brown communities and hurting families in New Jersey and across our nation. Today is a historic day, and I applaud Gov. Murphy, the Legislature and the many advocates for racial and social justice whose leadership is ensuring that New Jersey is at the forefront of equitable marijuana legalization policy. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate to end the federal marijuana prohibition so we can finally begin healing the wounds of decades of injustice.”
- Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford): “This is a historic reform that will have a real-life impact on social justice, law enforcement and the state’s economy. We can now move forward to correct social injustices at the same time that marijuana is made legal for adults. This will launch a new cannabis industry with the potential to create jobs and generate economic activity at a time when it is desperately needed. The decriminalization law is the most sweeping measure of its kind in the country, and is a groundbreaking step in our continued effort to make criminal justice reforms that are fairer and more effective. This will help reduce the racial disparities and social inequities that have long plagued our criminal justice system.”
- Dianna Houenou, incoming chair of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission: “At long last, New Jersey is turning the page on our previous treatment of marijuana use. I am excited to get to work building on the successes of the medical program and standing up the adult-use cannabis industry. It’s an honor to be part of this historic movement in New Jersey.”