New Jersey governor signs bills legalizing marijuana
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has signed into law legislation legalizing and regulating the use and possession of marijuana for adults 21 years of age and older.
The legislation also decriminalizes marijuana and hashish possession, his office announced Monday.
“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,” Murphy said in a statement.
“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,” he added.
“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.”
According to the Asbury Park Press, the move makes New Jersey the 13th state in the nation to legalize the drug for adult recreational use.
New Jersey residents voted last November in favor of a constitutional amendment allowing for the possession, sale and use of cannabis of residents ages 21 and over, making state the first to pass marijuana legalization as a ballot measure.
Murphy, who has served as governor of the Garden State since 2018, pushed for its legalization during his campaign. However, the issue was put on the 2020 general election ballot after it failed to garner enough support in the state legislature.
In his announcement on Monday, Murphy called the state’s move to legalize the drug 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.”
According to an analysis from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) more than 7 million people in the country were arrested for possession between 2001 and 2010.
Despite Black and white people in the U.S. using marijuana at roughly the same rate at the time, according to the analysis, Black people were almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) applauded Murphy as well as the efforts of state legislators on the issue.
“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,” Booker said, while also vowing to work with his colleagues in the Senate “to end the federal marijuana prohibition so we can finally begin healing the wounds of decades of injustice.”
State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D), whom Murphy’s office billed as “leading advocate of legalizing adult-use marijuana” in the past 10 years, said the move will “usher in a new era of social justice by doing away with the failed policy that criminalized the use of marijuana.”
“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,” he said.
One of the bills signed by Murphy on Monday, A1897, includes reforms for criminal and civil penalties for marijuana and hashish offenses, his office said, and “provides remedies for people currently facing certain marijuana charges.”
The legislation, his office also stated, will prevent “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.”
It additionally provides a path for active sentences for certain offenses that were committed prior to the legislation’s implementation to be vacated.
Another bill signed by Murphy on Monday, S3454, clarifies “penalties for marijuana and cannabis possession and consumption for individuals younger than 21 years old,” his office said.
The move comes about a year after Murphy signed legislation into law that sealed records of low-level marijuana convictions once a sentence has been served.
Carly Wolf, state policies manager for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said on Monday that the legislation signed by Murphy was “long overdue.”
“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,” Wolf added in a statement.
“For the last fifty years, marijuana criminalization has been used as a tool to propel mass incarceration,” state Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-N.J.) also said in a statement. “It has done immeasurable harm to Black and Brown communities around the country, and today we begin to right the ship here in New Jersey.”
“I look forward to seeing the tangible impact this legislation has on our communities in the years to come,” she added.
Updated at 2:29 p.m.