After years of disputes over the legalization and regulation of recreational marijuana in New Jersey, on Monday, February 22, Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation that would create a marijuana industry in New Jersey. One bill was aimed to decriminalize the possession of under six ounces of cannabis. Another was to set up the structure for the future sale of marijuana. And the third was a “clean-up” bill, specifying what will happen to underage users if they are caught possessing or consuming the substance. Although Gov. Murphy promised that marijuana would be legalized in New Jersey in his first 100 days in office, all of the legislators involved couldn’t agree on some key parts of the bill–causing numerous delays.
Public Question Number 1
In the November 2020 election, New Jersey citizens were asked to vote on whether or not recreational marijuana should be legal for people over the age of 21. The result was a landslide victory, won by a 2-to-1 margin. However, that was only the first hurdle. After this vote passed, the law should have been put into effect on January 1st, but this bill wasn’t agreed on and a replacement was not signed until nearly two months later. After seeing the potential economic effects of legalized recreational marijuana in other states, it seemed to be a bipartisan no-brainer. The problem was getting everyone to agree on some crucial details.
The first version of the bill was not universally liked by New Jersey legislatures since it did not allocate any funds for communities that have been most affected by marijuana-arrests for decades. This ongoing disagreement has been one of the main blockades on the legalization process since Murphy came into office. Social and racial justice activists found this oversight unacceptable and demanded the revenue collected from the cannabis tax be given to restorative programs.
Let me be blunt: Today, I signed historic adult-use cannabis reform bills into law – with social justice, racial justice, and economic justice leading the way.
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) February 23, 2021
A 2020 study showed that Black New Jersey residents are up to three times more likely to face marijuana charges than white residents. This is why legislators found it necessary to protect people of color in the bill. It was finally signed once 70 percent of the 6.625 percent sales tax was designated for areas disproportionately affected by marijuana arrests. The bill also creates an option for local governments to impose up to 2 percent more tax on cannabis, designed to provide even more funds to those communities.
Murphy would have signed the bill in 2020 if it weren’t for a change that he felt necessary. He proposed that anyone younger than 21 caught with one ounce or less would be fined $250 and between one and six ounces, $500. The argument against Murphy’s proposal was that it could potentially cause Black and Latino kids to be targeted by police.
In the “clean-up” bill that passed Monday, users under 21 that are caught possessing or consuming marijuana or alcohol would be given a warning. After a second offense, they get a written warning. After a third, they would be sent to community service programs. This leniency was the final obstacle standing in the way of legalized marijuana in New Jersey.
Over the course of Murphy’s tenure as governor, marijuana legalization has been a draining and long-lasting process, but one that has finally been resolved once and for all. Everyone involved had their own ideas of what would be the most effective and fair way to legalize the drug and that caused some major delays. Ultimately, the bright side is that they came together to pass the bill and New Jersey will now become the most populated state in the Northeast to legalize recreational marijuana.
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