At last! After Gov. Phil Murphy signed three bills into law, New Jersey became the the thirteenth US state to legalize adult-use cannabis.
Legalization in the Garden State encouraged New York State to follow suit just this week, with Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers formally announcing a final deal on legislation to legalize marijuana late Saturday night. Hopefully, the added pressure from these two East Coast states will finally force federal lawmakers in Congress to end the country’s century-long war on weed.
Despite the new bills being signed into law, it’s still illegal for adults to grow their own marijuana at home in New Jersey, and it may be as long as a year before adult-use cannabis products are available for purchase in commercial dispensaries. This means the legacy market will continue to thrive.
What Do The Laws In New Jersey Mean?
One bill eliminates civil and criminal penalties for adults possessing up to six ounces of marijuana, or 170 grams of cannabis concentrates. It also reduces criminal penalties for possessing or selling larger amounts of weed. It is not legal to smoke in public, or use cannabis in certain other places, where minors might be present. The law also says that police can’t use the smell of weed as a pretext for a search. This should remove police from getting involved in most situations involving cannabis.
A second bill legalizes for-profit sales and commercial cultivation, subject to strict state rules and taxation. Adults will not be able to buy more than one ounce at a time. And all of the revenue from a tax imposed on cultivators, as well as 70 percent of sales taxes, will go towards helping New Jersey communities.
When Will I Be Able to Buy Legal Weed in NJ?
The laws don’t say exactly when consumers will have access to legal cannabis. It all depends on how quickly lawmakers and policymakers move, but it’s thought that it could take as long as a year.
The first stores that will sell to adults will most likely be the 13 existing dispensaries that currently serve NJ medical marijuana patients.
A Long Time Coming
Gov. Murphy’s signature ended a confusing period in which New Jersey voters had approved legalizing cannabis, but laws prohibiting weed stayed in place. This allowed police to keep making arrests for low-level marijuana possession, even though the state that had legalized. At least 6,000 people were arrested for cannabis in the state after legalization.
The voter-approved constitutional amendment relied on state lawmakers to pass enabling legislation, which they did last December, but Gov. Murphy refused to sign it into law until wording over penalties for youth using cannabis was corrected to his satisfaction.
Legalization advocates criticized that process. “While we are pleased to see the will of New Jersey voters finally enshrined into approved legislation, it was a grotesque failure on the part of elected leadership that it took so long to do so,” Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said in a statement.
“Despite nearly seven in ten New Jersey residents voting in favor of legalization on Election Day, it took lawmakers 111 days following that vote to achieve consensus to enact enabling legislation into law,” he added. “During this undue delay, over 6,000 citizens faced charges for activities most New Jerseyans demanded be legalized. It is our hope that lawmakers and regulators going forward implement these laws with a renewed sense of urgency.”
New Jersey’s new laws still have some issues: they don’t guarantee expungement of past cannabis crimes from individuals’ criminal records, and workplaces can still drug test employees or applicants. Plus, there’s no guarantee that law enforcement will stop policing weed entirely.
Nonetheless, New Jersey now has legal cannabis, as the tide continues to turn in the favor of ending the war on weed.