New Jersey: Governor Signs Enabling Legislation to Cease Marijuana Possession Arrests, License Retail Sales Into Law

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Democratic Governor Phil Murphy today signed enabling legislation carrying out voters’ Election Day demands to legalize adult-use marijuana possession and license retail marijuana sales into law today.

Three bills were signed by the Governor. A21/S21 licenses the commercial production and retail sale of cannabis to adults. Under the new law, adults may legally purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis. Retail sales are subject to state sales tax. Seventy percent of the revenue derived from sales taxes on retail marijuana purchases will be directed toward reinvestment in designated, lower-income communities.

The new law caps the number of state-licensed cultivators at 37 for the first two years. Existing state-licensed medical cannabis producers will be among those eligible to provide to the retail market. It has been estimated that adult-use retailers may be operational within six months.

Murphy also signed A1897, which removes criminal and civil penalties for the private possession of up to six ounces of cannabis by those ages 21 and older, as well as for the possession of personal use amounts of hashish (up to 170 grams). It also depenalizes activities involving the transfer of up to one ounce of cannabis, and reduces criminal penalties for activities involving larger quantities (distribution of more than one ounce but less than five pounds) of the substance.

Gov. Murphy also signed a third piece of legislation into law, A5342. It provides for a series of written warnings, rather than the imposition of either criminal penalties or fines for those under the age of 21 who are caught with cannabis. The Governor lobbied for the measure, which was passed by lawmakers this morning. Under the measure, third-time juvenile offenders could receive community service. Provisions in the law also restrict police from conducting searches of juveniles based solely on the odor of marijuana. 

“The enactment of these laws is long overdue,” said NORML State Policies Manager Carly Wolf — who emphasized that state and local police have made over 6,000 arrests for marijuana-related violations in the months since New Jersey voters overwhelmingly decided at the ballot box. “Now, going forward, tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding New Jerseyans will no longer be subject to arrest and a criminal record for their personal use of marijuana, and the commercial market will be regulated in a fair and inclusive manner.”

An analysis of nationwide arrest data published in 2018 reported that New Jersey ranked third in the nation in total marijuana arrests and second only to Wyoming in per capita marijuana arrests. 

Provisions in the bill allowing the use and possession of marijuana take immediate effect. 

On Election Day, New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved Public Question 1, which instructed lawmakers to enact legislation permitting adults to possess and purchase marijuana from licensed retailers. Lawmakers subsequently approved A21/S21 and A1897 on December 17, and after constant delays and disagreements among legislative leaders and Gov. Murphy, lawmakers approved A5342 as a compromise “cleanup” bill on Monday morning.

“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,” stated NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri, “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. 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.”

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