In the 2020 election, New Jersey voters took to the polls and approved the legalization of marijuana in the state. The new law officially went into effect on January 1, but there were strict rules regarding who could use the drug and who would still face penalties for marijuana usage. The bill stated that only those over 21 would be allowed to consume marijuana in the state of New Jersey, and there would be penalties for minors found in possession of the drug. At the time, lawmakers noted that it could take anywhere from six months to a year for marijuana to be sold in stores in New Jersey. But, it’s been a rocky road to putting a clear bill in effect since the vote was passed, leaving New Jersey in a weird state of limbo. Read on to learn more about the future of marijuana legalization in New Jersey.
A few weeks ago, on December 4th, the state New Jersey Assembly and Senate voted in favor of legislation that would clear the way and create a framework for the legalization of marijuana. All it needed to become law was Governor Murphy’s signature, but he chose not to act on the bill.
The legal process moved forward though, with lawmakers and assembly members stating that social justice and tax revenue was at the forefront of the hunt for legalization. According to Patch, “about 30 percent of the sales tax revenue from legal cannabis would fund the operations of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, the state board charged with overseeing New Jersey’s recreational and medical marijuana programs,” the outlet reported. The remaining 70 percent would aid the communities most negatively impacted by drug laws.
But then, again, another deal fell through. A bill that would address Governor Murphy’s concerns with bill A-21–namely, Murphy wanted to make sure there were appropriate penalties handed out to those under 21 found in possession of the drug. Many lawmakers pulled their support of the bill because they thought the penalties outlined in what was dubbed the “cleanup bill” were too harsh. They felt it would just re-introduce a version of stop and frisk into the streets.
on January 22nd, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal released a statement stating that he extended an order halting prosecutions for low-level marijuana offenses through the end of March, according to a memo from his office addressed to prosecutors across the state.
According to Patch, the cleanup bill’s penalties included:
Anyone between the ages of 18 and 20 in possession of marijuana or any cannabis item in any school, motor vehicle, or public place could be fined between $50 and $250.
Anyone between the ages of 18 and 20 who possesses marijuana or cannabis and knowingly consumed the drug in any school, motor vehicle or public place would be fined an amount between $100 and $500.
Minors under the age of 18 in possession of marijuana or cannabis would not be subject to a civil penalty. Instead, they would be subject to a curbside warning or “stationhouse adjustment,” allowing law enforcement agencies to resolve a violation without formal court proceedings. They could also be required to participate in an alcohol or drug abuse education or treatment program.
The stationhouse adjustment would establish one or more conditions that the person would be required to meet in exchange for the law enforcement agency declining to pursue a formal delinquency complaint.
The Future of Marijuana in New Jersey
The last thing Governor Murphy wants, he said, is “more kids getting tangled up in the criminal justice system. None of us want that. Period.” But, Murphy is also tasked with making sure it doesn’t entice minors to become infatuated with the drug. “This was never about legalizing marijuana for our kids,” he said.
But, for now, New Jersey residents are not able to smoke. And, anyone who has been charged with marijuana possession in the state could see their case postponed until January 25, or dropped entirely, depending on the prosecutor. The state law, as it stands, fines those charged with marijuana possession $1,000, and they can face up to six months in jail. Annually, New Jersey has one of the highest marijuana arrest numbers in the country, with over 300,000 arrests.
With every delay, official legislation for marijuana in New Jersey is delayed, pushing back the date that it will be available in retail stores even further. For now, though, marijuana possession is still technically illegal in the state of New Jersey.