After years of false starts and failed attempts, Governor Philip D. Murphy on Monday enacted three bills that effectively permit and regulate the recreational use of marijuana in New Jersey, making it the Most populous state in the northeast to fully legalize drugs. .
New Jersey is now one of 14 states to legalize the recreational use of cannabis for adults 21 and older, while easing several penalties for possession of minors and allowing the creation of a regulated market that could provide a welcome boost to the state’s economy as it recovers from the pandemic.
Legal sales will likely stick around for months at the earliest, as the state undertakes its next task of creating a heavily regulated industry large enough to meet public demand, with licenses yet to be distributed to dispensaries.
But after years of failed legislative efforts to approve the recreational use of marijuana, Monday’s decision came as a long-awaited victory for supporters, including Mr. Murphy, who had long lobbied for it. ‘inclusion of measures to tackle the disproportionate number of marijuana arrests in communities of color.
“Our current marijuana ban laws have failed all social justice tests,” Murphy said in a statement Monday. “It is unfair and indefensible to maintain a status quo that allows tens of thousands of disproportionately colored people to be arrested in New Jersey each year for petty drug offenses.”
Mr. Murphy has championed the legalization of recreational marijuana as early as 2016, during his campaign for governor. But these efforts have failed to garner enough support among lawmakers.
In New Jersey, the new industry is expected to generate around $ 126 million in revenue per year for the state once the market is created, which could serve as a motivation for rapid progress as the state strives to fill gaps. budget holes during the pandemic. Mr Murphy said on Monday that the market would “start to take shape” over the next few months.
In Massachusetts, two years passed between voter approval of non-medical marijuana use and the launch of the state’s first dispensaries.
New Jersey’s journey to legalization has already seen delays.
In November, voters, by a margin of about 2 to 1, approved a constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis in the state – increasing pressure on neighboring states like New York and Pennsylvania to take action. similar measures. But state officials still had to debate several details regarding the implementation, including the rules for regulating and testing cannabis, how licenses would be issued, and how marijuana users. under 21 would be penalized.
In the months between the passage in November and the signing on Monday, police statewide filed thousands of charges for minor possession of cannabis. Directives issued by the New Jersey attorney general had ordered prosecutors to stay cases involving certain marijuana possession charges while the legislative process unfolded.
While it will remain difficult to legally purchase recreational marijuana until the state approves its first dispensaries, some supporters saw the signing of the bill on Monday as the symbolic turning point after an era of racial disparities in law enforcement. Black residents of New Jersey were more than three times more likely than white residents to be charged with possession of marijuana, despite similar rates of use.
“With Governor Murphy’s signature, the decades-long practice of racist marijuana crackdowns will begin to recede,” Amol Sinha, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said in a statement. “Our state’s cannabis laws can set a new standard for what justice can look like.”
The bill signed by Mr. Murphy on Monday decriminalizes the use or possession of up to six ounces of marijuana. The use of the drug for some medical purposes was already permitted, but unlike in many other states, patients are not permitted to grow cannabis themselves.
Use or possession by minors will be punished with smaller penalties, including written warnings and referrals to community services such as mentoring and counseling – as opposed to heavy fines or criminal penalties.
The recreational use of marijuana is now legal in 14 states and Washington, DC, with another voting initiative endorsed by South Dakota voters now facing legal challenges. But no other mid-Atlantic state has managed to overcome the myriad of logistical hurdles associated with the move.
In early January, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York renewed his vow to allow recreational use of marijuana, proposing a new office to regulate the market. But similar efforts have taken place every year since 2019, in large part due to disagreements over how to distribute taxpayer dollars from marijuana sales and distribution licenses.
Opponents have argued that the legalization of marijuana and a robust cannabis industry could have negative public health consequences, especially for underage users.
Yet as New York faces a budget hole of more than $ 60 billion over the next four years and other fallout from the pandemic, legalization is expected to have much greater momentum. this year – when officials estimate legal weed could raise $ 300 million a year.
“I think it should have been passed years ago,” Cuomo said during a video briefing in January. “This year will give us the momentum we need to cross the goal line.”
Tracey Tully, Luis Ferré-Sadurní and Jesse McKinley contribution to reports.